SNP Welcome Highlands And Islands Commitment - Funding Must Be Defended

14 September 2006
Scottish National Party MEP Alyn Smith has today called for Jack McConnell to vigorously defend the Highlands and Islands against calls for some £20 million of EU funding to be repaid.

Speaking from Brussels where he has been kept informed of the EU audit of the Highlands and Islands funding programme over the last year MEP Alyn Smith said

"The SNP will support the Highlands and Islands in challenging the inaccuracies in the auditors report. I hope the Scottish Executive are committed to doing the same.

"The Scottish Executive failed to support Highlands and Islands fully when the audit problems were first revealed. This time they must give them the fullest possible backing.

"I welcome the First Minister's commitment to contest these findings and I too will be raising the issue with Commissioner Hubner next week. I have already written to the Minister. I hope we will see considerable action by the Scottish Executive and the DTI on this case.

"If there are genuine problems then action must be taken but currently all we have are irregularities and missing paperwork. This situation must be clarified.

"These projects were managed pre-devolution under UK Tory and Labour rule and they must take responsibility for any negative outcomes.

"Rather than see projects that are vital to the economy of the Highlands and Islands face financial uncertainty the Department for Trade and Industry, who were responsible at the time, must commit to meet any Highlands costs"

"The Highlands and Islands have made fantastic use of the European money available to them and Scotland is seen across the EU and by the European Commission as a prime example of how to use EU funding."

"An SNP government under Alex Salmond will stick up for Scotland and fight to ensure that the Highlands and Islands does not repay a penny. This was done under the London DTI and if there are any costs it is London that must pay them."