Salmond and Cameron set for clash over welfare

ALEX Salmond and David Cameron are set for a head to head clash this week over UK welfare reforms, amid signs that the relationship between Edinburgh and London has soured further.
David Cameron: frosty letters. Picture: ReutersDavid Cameron: frosty letters. Picture: Reuters
David Cameron: frosty letters. Picture: Reuters

Aides to the First Minister said last night that they intend to attack plans to press ahead with the so-called “bedroom tax” and raise claims that EU cash to boost youth employment is being “raided” from their budget.

Whitehall sources are already accusing the SNP of seeking to manufacture grievances, as part of its independence referendum campaign.

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It comes with the SNP preparing for its conference at the end of the week, when the party will seek to frame the question facing voters as a choice between Holyrood running the country, or Westminster.

The row between Salmond and Cameron comes after the pair exchanged increasingly frosty letters last month on whether they should hold a TV debate. The Prime Minister argues that, as the choice is for Scottish voters, Salmond should debate with Alistair Darling, the leader of the Better Together campaign.

The pair will clash on Wednesday during a meeting of the joint ministerial committee in London, when the heads of the devolved nations meet the Prime Minister.

On the bedroom tax, a source close to the First Minister said: “It is a punitive measure, affecting some of the most vulnerable in our society, and it must be scrapped, something the First Minister will make clear to the Prime Minister when they meet this week.”

Salmond is also expected to raise questions over a €200 million (£170m) EU fund which has been awarded to the UK to help youth employment. Five regions of the UK with higher levels of youth unemployment have been awarded some of the money, including the south-west of Scotland.

SNP sources claim Westminster is planning to take 10 per cent of the sum earmarked for the Glasgow area to spend on other projects.

Youth employment minister Angela Constance said: “The Tories appear to be about to top-slice 10 per cent of the EU cash and use it to fund their own welfare-to-work programmes. They want to spend money intended to help young people and use it instead to penalise young people.”

However, the claim was dismissed by UK government figures last night.

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A UK government spokeswoman said: “There may be flexibility in how we allocate 10 per cent of the funding we receive. We’re considering using this flexibility in England’s allocation to target measures on smaller areas of very high youth unemployment outside the eligible regions. We are currently consulting all the devolved authorities, including Scotland.”

Scottish Conservative welfare spokesman Alex Johnstone said: “Alex Salmond and the SNP have no credibility whatsoever when it comes to welfare.

“Last year, Nicola Sturgeon told a parliamentary committee that she supported the principle of welfare reform but in January she attacked the benefit cap.

“Then over the summer her boss, Alex Salmond, said he supported one but has refused to say at what level it should be set.

“The SNP has cynically used changes to welfare and benefits as arguments for separation but have refused to lay out what kind of welfare system there would be under independence and how it would be funded.

“For Alex Salmond to try and make this a head-to-head issue with him and the Prime Minister is just another diversionary tactic to get away from the fact he and his party are all over the place on welfare.”