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Political editor Brian Taylor reports
"The Barnett Formula is not the holy grail"
 real 56k

Monday, 14 May, 2001, 18:44 GMT
Blair makes Scots funding pledge
Tony Blair
Tony Blair visited a building site in Inverness
Prime Minister Tony Blair has ruled out any change to the system which sets public spending levels in Scotland.

The Labour leader told the BBC's Reporting Scotland programme that he had always backed the formula - and always would.

But the Scottish National Party insisted that Scotland was already facing a cash squeeze.

And the Tories claimed that Labour would come under pressure to scrap the formula.


There is a huge amount at stake in this election

Tony Blair
Speaking on his first day of campaigning in Scotland, Mr Blair said: "I support the Barnett Formula.

"I think it is the right way in order to make sure we get a fair settlement for the UK."

And he continued: "All the way through... I have said we have no plans to change the Barnett Formula and I have supported it because I think it is the best and fairest way to distribute resources."

Mr Blair also sought to confront claims that devolution has made Westminster less relevant in Scotland as he campaigned in Inverness and Aberdeen.

Tim Yeo
Tim Yeo led the Tories' rural affairs push
Mr Blair said: "Our opponents will go around the country trying to spread apathy and cynicism and telling people that this election is irrelevant and doesn't matter in Scotland. It does.

"There is a huge amount at stake in this election. If the Conservatives get back in, their plans for 16bn of cuts will hit Scotland too.

"That means less money for Scotland's schools and hospitals and for the fight against crime.

"That is why we will be campaigning in the coming weeks on our positive message of stability, leadership and record investment in public services because that is what matters to the people of Scotland."

That allegation has been strongly denied by the Tories.

Spending debate

But SNP leader John Swinney claimed that Scotland's share of public spending was falling under Labour.

He challenged Tony Blair to explain "why such a wealthy nation like Scotland" was receiving less from the Treasury when it would be sending a 7.7bn surplus to London in the two years up to 2002.

Speaking at the launch of his party's Banff and Buchan double election campaign in Fraserburgh on Monday, Mr Swinney said: "Scotland's share of spending on health and education has fallen under London Labour.

John Swinney
John Swinney attacked Labour's record on public spending
"Tony Blair has promised 20,000 new nurses and 6,000 new police officers south of the border, but there are no pledges to deliver any new nurses or police officers in Scotland.

"It is quite clear that London Labour are promising better public services south of the border at Scotland's expense."

Mr Swinney was backed by former party leader Alex Salmond who said: "Last Friday, John Reid and Helen Liddell were asked whether they would rule out further cuts in Scotland's share of public spending. But they failed to do.

"And in a letter to me over the future of Scotland's public services spending, John Prescott merely states that there are no plans 'at present' to further reduce Scotland's share of spending on schools and hospitals.

Mr Salmond said this was a clear indication that Labour planned to take "even more resources away" from Scotland.

Education pledge

He added: "This issue will be at the centre of the Scottish election campaign".

The Liberal Democrats also maintained the debate on taxation by pledging 330m to Scottish education.

Menzies Campbell, MP for Fife North East, said a Liberal Democrat government would spend 3bn on education across the United Kingdom, 330 million of which would be allocated to Scotland.

Menzies campbell
Menzies Campbell: Focus on education
Speaking in Edinburgh, he said: "The right to a good education is fundamental to individual freedom.

"It's essential we have a properly educated workforce to achieve economic prosperity.

"If we want education, education, education we have got to be prepared to make investment, investment, investment."

The Conservative Party moved away from the tax and spending debate to concentrate on rural areas.

During a visit to Edinburgh, the party's shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo accused Tony Blair of playing politics rather than getting to grips with the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

He said that the government's "dithering" over the epidemic had exacerbated the problem and warned against complacency in containing and eradicating the disease.

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