20 December 2001

(S1O-4341) HM Treasury (Meetings)

9. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Executive when the Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning last met Her Majesty's Treasury ministers and what issues were discussed. (S1O-4341)

The Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning (Ms Wendy Alexander): I last met the Chancellor at the Labour Party conference in October; we discussed a variety of matters.

Stewart Stevenson: Did the minister make her Treasury colleagues aware that 1,400 jobs are currently at risk throughout Scotland? Those jobs are mainly in rural areas and, unlike the 1,200 jobs that are regrettably being lost at NEC, are threatened wholly as a result of Government action. The chancellor's aggregates tax is likely to cost the breakwater project in my constituency up to £2 million and, interestingly enough, in Gordon Brown's constituency—

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): Order. We must have a question.

Stewart Stevenson: It is relevant, sir.

The Presiding Officer: It may be relevant, but it is not a question.

Stewart Stevenson: Is the minister aware that, in Gordon Brown's constituency, the much-welcomed Rosyth-Zeebrugge ferry project may also incur additional costs of £0.5 million? What economic assessment has been undertaken of the impact of the aggregates tax in Scotland? What representation has she made to the Treasury in London to obtain a derogation for Scotland, similar to the one that Northern Ireland has obtained, given the deleterious effects of the tax?

Ms Alexander: The Executive is in discussion with the Treasury and other parts of the UK Government about the implementation of the tax. The rules of collective responsibility preclude me from sharing any of those discussions here today. Of course, we are aware of the partial exemption for Northern Ireland.

Mr Mike Rumbles (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): The minister will be aware of the problems of community economic development companies, such as Mid Deeside Ltd in my constituency, which have problems in accessing core funding as opposed to project funding. Does the minister have any plans to address that issue? She will be aware that I wrote to her recently on the matter.

Ms Alexander: It is important that the Parliament makes the appropriate resources available to local enterprise companies, and that those companies have the opportunity to decide priorities in their areas. A variety of local organisations contribute in important ways to economic development in their areas, but it is important that responsibility for that operates through the LEC network. It is not something that we try to second-guess in this Parliament. As Mr Rumbles is a good Liberal, I am sure that the principle of local accountability for spending decisions is one that commends itself to him.

Alex Neil (Central Scotland) (SNP): I thank the minister for giving me notice of the closure of the individual learning accounts scheme as of this afternoon. Will the minister indicate the concerns about fraud and corruption that led to the closure of the scheme? Can she confirm whether the scheme has been closed or suspended? Will she indicate the number of companies and organisations that are affected?

Ms Alexander: I seek the Presiding Officer's guidance. A parliamentary question has been lodged on individual learning accounts, I have written to Alex Neil in his capacity as convener of the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee, and I am aware that a question has been lodged for the First Minister. I do not think that it would be appropriate for me to answer any further questions, given that the original question concerned the aggregates tax.

The Presiding Officer: Actually, the original question was not about the aggregates tax; it was as set out under question 9. If the minister discussed with the Treasury the issue to which Alex Neil referred, she is welcome to answer the question, but if she did not, she cannot.

Alex Neil: On a point of order, Presiding Officer. The issue is well within the minister's responsibilities, and it is well within the remit of the question. Given that there has not been time for a ministerial statement, the chamber is entitled to know the facts.

The Presiding Officer: If the minister does not want to answer, that is the end of the matter.

Ms Alexander: I am happy to answer on individual learning accounts if it is appropriate to do so, but the Treasury has no locus of any kind in the matter. I seek your guidance, Presiding Officer.

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