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Thursday, 26 April, 2001, 17:05 GMT 18:05 UK
McLeish backs under fire minister
Wendy Alexander in the chamber
The first minister said Ms Alexander was "talented and hard-working"
First Minister Henry McLeish has delivered full support for his Enterprise Minister Wendy Alexander in the row over the appointment of a new tourism chief.

During first minister's questions in the Scottish Parliament, he described Ms Alexander as "talented and hard-working".

Opposition leaders had called for Ms Alexander to be sacked over the botched appointment of Rod Lynch as the new chief executive of visitscotland - the former Scottish Tourist Board.

The offer to Mr Lynch was withdrawn over an alleged conflict of interests.

Rod Lynch
The row was over the bungled appointment of Rod Lynch
Mr McLeish stressed that the issue had been handled directly by visitscotland - and that ministers had not known the full detail of his other job with an airfreight company.

In response to challenges from Scottish National Party leader John Swinney, Mr McLeish said he had "absolute confidence" in the minister.

Referring to her statement to MSPs on the Motorola closure, Mr McLeish said: "Anyone in this chamber yesterday could see an excellent job done in enormously difficult circumstances.

"This was a tribute to the minister.

"Talented, hard working - if anyone wants to take issue about that, we would be serving Scotland better by dealing with what has happened with tourism this week rather than just scapegoating, as the nationalists want to do - the worst form of cynicism."

Bungled appointment

It was Mr McLeish's first Question Time clash with critics since the debacle over the bungled appointment of Rod Lynch as chief executive of visitscotland.

The clash also came against a background of rumours that Ms Alexander is losing some of the backing of Chancellor Gordon Brown.

She will have a key role in coordinating Labour's general election campaign in Scotland and her brother Douglas, MP for Paisley South has a similar role with the campaign south of the border.

Mr McLeish said he shared the concerns of MSPs about the affair.

SNP leader John Swinney
John Swinney: "Ms Alexander approved the appointment"
But he went on to pin the blame firmly on visitscotland - to the annoyance of Opposition MSPs who claim the blame should lie with ministers.

Mr McLeish said the search for a chief executive was made by visitscotland, who withdrew Mr Lynch's job offer after being told on Monday he was the holder of an airline operating licence with a firm called Global Supply Systems (GSS).

That executive responsibility was deemed incompatible with the position of chief executive of visitscotland, with the tourism body's decision supported by ministers.

But Mr Swinney argued it was the enterprise minister who had started the search for a chief executive for visitscotland, and it was Ms Alexander who had approved the appointment and had "paraded" the outcome to the people of Scotland.

Small print

"The enterprise minister and her officials had failed to look at the small print in his contract," said Mr Swinney.

"Isn't it the case that ministers are prepared to accept the salary but not the responsibility?"

Scots Tory leader David McLetchie continued the attack.

He said: "The fact that Mr Lynch had an executive role was well known to everyone for weeks."

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See also:

25 Apr 01 | Scotland
Legal battle looms over tourism job
24 Apr 01 | Scotland
Tourist chief defends 'dismissal'
24 Apr 01 | Scotland
Tourism's timetable of trouble
23 Apr 01 | Scotland
Tourist chief 'goes' after posts row
23 Apr 01 | Scotland
New row engulfs tourist chief
19 Apr 01 | Scotland
New chief for tourist body
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