Helen Liddell in the Press

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Part-timer jibe at Liddell on full-time public pay


HELEN LIDDELL walked straight into her first row as Labour's "Nat-basher-in-chief" last night after it emerged she will receive a 77,000 salary, at taxpayers' expense, to do half of her predecessor's job.

The new Deputy Scottish Secretary was handed responsibility for education and little else to deflect her from the purely party political task of leading Labour's counter-attack against the SNP.

In a move that caught Westminster by surprise, the task of announcing the new Ministerial portfolios was left to the new Scottish Office permanent secretary, Muir Russell. Mrs Liddell, whose new responsibilities include the co-ordination and presentation of policy, was not present.

The SNP seized on the decision, taken by Donald Dewar, as a "major political scandal" and proof that Mrs Liddell's main job was bashing the SNP. Leader Alex Salmond said: "The Scottish taxpayer is expected to pick up the tab for London Labour's anti-SNP campaign."

Mr Salmond claimed Mrs Liddell, who is not standing for the Scottish Parliament, was "a part-time Minister being paid a full-time salary in order to pursue London Labour's negative agenda in Scotland".

Mrs Liddell will take responsibility for education, the troublesome portfolio vacated by Brian Wilson's move to the Department of Trade and Industry, including the disbursement of the extra 1200m promised under the Comprehensive Spending Review. She will also take over from Henry McLeish as Scotland's Minister for Women.

However, her primary responsibility will be the co-ordination and presentation of policy. The new role will put her in the frontline of the battle to save Labour from defeat in next year's elections for the Scottish parliament.

By allowing Mrs Liddell to concentrate on education, Mr Dewar has left his new champion - dubbed MacEnforcer by Westminster colleagues last night - with more time to spend on active party political service.

Her role mirrors the job given to Jack Cunningham who has been put in charge of making sure all departments work together to put the best possible gloss on Government policy. But he has no responsibility for party policy.

The Scottish Office rejected suggestions that there was any impropriety in the balance of Mrs Liddell's portfolio. Mr Russell said: "I'm entirely comfortable that it is a good solid job."

Mr Wilson's other main brief, industry, will be taken over personally by Mr Dewar. The transport and local government briefs were swopped between Minister of State Henry McLeish and Junior Minister Calum MacDonald.

Opposition parties were quick to ridicule Mrs Liddell's light Ministerial workload, to which she referred on BBC radio yesterday as her "day job".

Mr Salmond conceded education and women's issues were important but added: "There is no doubt her primary purpose in Scotland is to pursue London Labour's anti-SNP agenda."

Scottish Tory chairman Raymond Robertson said: "Like her little-lamented predecessor, Mrs Liddell will not have to be responsible for her actions on the education front to the people of Scotland.

"Like Brian Wilson, she is another hit-and-run caretaker Minister whose stated ambitions and aspirations lie not in the Scottish Parliament but in Westminster."

He added: "When she shadowed me as Education Minister she gave an unequivocal guarantee there would be no tuition fees under a Labour Government. Now that she is Education Minister, she has a moral duty to live up to her word."

A Government statement last night formally listed Ministerial responsibilities as follows:

Donald Dewar: development, implementation and presentation of Scottish Office policy overall, specifically business, industry, economic development, New Deal, energy, innovation and technology.

Helen Liddell: co-ordination and presentation of policy, education, women's issues.

Henry McLeish: home affairs, devolution, local government.

Sam Galbraith: health, social security, arts and sport, children and childcare.

Calum MacDonald: housing, transport, European affairs, Highlands and Islands issues, Gaelic, Commons spokesman on agriculture, environment, fisheries and forestry.

Lord Sewel: agriculture, environment, fisheries and forestry, social inclusion and Lords spokesman on Scottish affairs. - July 30