SNP Meet Commission On Highlands And Islands EU Funding Audit

27 September 2006
"Audit vital to ensure value for money, dialogue crucial to ensure swift resolution"

SNP Highlands and Islands MEP Alyn Smith has met with Regional

Development Commissioner Danuta Hubner to discuss the problems raised by the audit of the Highlands and Islands 1994-99 programme.

The Commission is concerned that £20million pounds may have been improperly spent and will seek to reclaim that money unless Highlands and Islands and the Scottish Executive can prove the money was used and accounted for within EU guidelines.

Speaking after the meeting in Strasbourg Mr Smith said:

"Mrs Hubner was, as usual, frank and constructive. She evidently very much enjoyed her trip to Scotland last week and was impressed by the quality of Scottish EU funded projects.

" We agreed that it is vital to ensure value for money for the taxpayer but that there must be dialogue between all parties in Scotland, the Highlands and Islands and the EU in order to solve the problems highlighted by the Commission and demonstrate that the money in question was properly accounted for.

"We must always remember that we in Scotland have used EU funds creatively and well, it would be a sair fecht if we find ourselves needing to hand money back because we cannot find some paperwork. At no time been any suggestion of fraud or impropriety.

"I have been in touch with Highlands and Islands Enterprise for some months on this issue and have asked Scottish Ministers to clarify what action they are taking to resolve this situation.

"It is important to remember that any mistakes, if any were made, occurred before the re-establishment of the Parliament in Edinburgh and therefore the UK Treasury should cover any expenses that result from this case.

"I have already contacted Secretary of State Douglas Alexander down in Westminster to make this point and ensure that if any mistakes were made and paperwork can not be found the proper authority picks up the tab."