Scotland politics

Salmond says no agreement on benefit reforms after Cameron talks

David Cameron and Alex Salmond
David Cameron and Alex Salmond were discussing a number of issues

The impact of changes to housing benefit has been raised by First Minister Alex Salmond in talks with Prime Minister David Cameron.

The leaders were meeting at the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) in Downing Street, involving devolved administrations and the UK government.

Mr Salmond said the "insanity" of the so-called bedroom tax was evident.

New Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael said it was clear there was a difference of views.

The JMC meeting comes on the eve of the SNP's conference in Perth and less than a year before the referendum on Scottish independence.

'Hot issues'

Mr Salmond raised the issue of the removal of the spare room subsidy, described by critics as the ''bedroom tax'', as well as youth unemployment and lottery funding.

The meeting, chaired by the prime minister, also focused on the economy and illegal immigration as well as the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup, both being held in Scotland next year.

Ahead of the talks, the first minister told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme: "There's a subject on the agenda called hot political issues and I can't think of anything hotter than the bedroom tax at the present moment.

"The insanity of the charge is becoming ever clearer by the day."

Mr Salmond called for a review of the policy's impact and an indication of whether discretionary housing payments to mitigate its impact would continue next year.

After the talks he said no agreement was reached on the reforms, adding: "The way to agree on the 'bedroom tax' is to get it reversed."

Benefit problems

Mr Carmichael, who also attended, had urged Mr Salmond not to take a negative approach and said he should be prepared to listen and learn.

Mr Salmond said Lib Dem and Labour criticism of his views on the benefit changes was an example of other parties working in co-ordination with the Conservatives.

Mr Carmichael told BBC Scotland that Mr Salmond must accept that there would be real problems in an independent Scotland running welfare reform and benefit payments.

He said: "The question of a review is one where in fact I think we are rather ahead of the curve because the deputy prime minister announced in the House of Commons yesterday that the government itself is having a review of this, and indeed we review all policies as they go along."

The Scottish secretary said difficult decisions had to be made to cut the deficit but if it was shown there were difficulties being caused by housing benefit changes the government would deal with them.

Mr Carmichael said: "We always knew that this was going to be a very difficult policy to implement and we can see the obvious difficulties that come with it - we're not blind to that, I see it in my own constituency - that's why we've already put an enormous amount of money directly into local authorities so they can protect those that are going to be most vulnerable to the changes."

Salmond 'grandstanding'

Meanwhile, Labour's shadow Scottish Secretary, Margaret Curran, accused the Scottish government of "grandstanding".

She said: "Prices are rising faster than wages, energy bills are still going up and the bedroom tax is continuing to hit people across the country.

"This is a rare opportunity to hammer out a plan to get to grips with this cost-of-living crisis.

"Instead of coming to London to tell David Cameron to bin the bedroom tax, Alex Salmond should be laying out a plan to stop it hitting Scots."

Also attending the meeting were the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, leaders of the Welsh and Northern Irish governments, Scottish Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop and Scottish Youth Employment Minister Angela Constance.

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