Grahame and Moore lock horns over Abbotsford restoration cash

ALTHOugh lauded across the political spectrum, the £10million restoration of St Walter Scott’s house at Abbotsford has produced a war of words between Borders politicians Christine Grahame, SNP MSP, and Liberal Democrat MP Michael Moore, writes Andrew Keddie.

The first salvo was fired last week when Ms Grahame, who represents Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale at Holyrood, urged Scottish Secretary Mr Moore to “support a request that would allow [restoration] work by Historic Scotland to go ahead”.

She revealed: “The Scottish Government is asking the UK Government to allow Scotland to bring forward capital funding from future years to allow construction to get under way straight away.”

She explained the Abbotsford restoration, for which £700,000 was being sought, was one of many projects considered “shovel ready” which were submitted to the Westminster Government earlier this month.

“These could get under way if Scotland was given the green light, but with cuts of 32 per cent in Scotland’s capital budget having a severe effect, funding for them [the Scottish projects] is not yet available.”

But this week Mr Moore responded by urging the Scottish Government to “back Abbotsford’s bid for funding to enable the work to transform the house into a world-class tourist attraction to continue”.

The MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk said: “There is a request to bring forward £700,000 of capital spending, but the funding needed for Abbotsford is up to £500,000 of revenue spending which will allow the Abbotsford Trust to deliver the capital project now under way.

“I have therefore written to John Swinney [Scotland’s cabinet secretary for finance] urging him to retract the bid to the UK Government and, instead, support the trust by plugging the revenue gap through the Scottish Government’s own revenue channels.

“The Scottish Government and the SNP have misunderstood the needs of Abbotsford by demanding money for a capital project when the funding needed is actually revenue ... which is the Scottish Government’s responsibility.”

Mr Moore said he had been “tracking the project’s progress closely” since the trust was awarded £5million by the Heritage Lottery Fund two years ago.

“I am proud to have the home of Sir Walter Scott in my constituency ... and it is absolutely vital the house is preserved for all to enjoy. So I again urge Mr Swinney and his government to provide the revenue funding Abbotsford needs to press ahead with the project.”

Ms Grahame hit back, claiming: “This is a completely disingenuous manoeuvre by Michael Moore when you realise he and his cabinet colleagues have slashed Scotland’s capital budget by 32 per cent.

“Such a savage cut meant we had to transfer money from revenue to capital to plug the gap, so the revenue budget is already under huge strain. Is Mr Moore now pretending his government is not making any budget reductions?”

Ms Grahame said the MP “had a cheek” asking the Scottish Government to withdraw the bid for projects, including Abbotsford, because, she claimed, Prime Minister David Cameron had accepted the principle of bringing forward capital expenditure when he had met First Minister Alex Salmond recently.

“It seems Mr Moore is not prepared to put his money where his mouth is so that the vital Abbotsford project, which would give a much-needed economic boost to his own constituency, can proceed,” added Ms Grahame.

A spokesperson for the Abbotsford Trust told us: “We are aware of discussions between the Scottish and UK Governments regarding a grant to the trust. The Abbotsford Project is a multi-million pound initiative that has so far raised over £10million from a diverse range of private and public sources. Work began on a new visitor centre at Abbotsford last year and its opening is scheduled for this summer.

“Work also began last year on the restoration and refurbishment of the main house at Abbotsford. This work is continuing and we anticipate that it will be completed as scheduled in 2013.

“The funding under discussion is not required to deliver this element of the work but is, in fact, revenue funding to assist with ongoing running costs of the trust.

“We are looking forward to hearing the outcome of these discussions and in the meantime will continue in our efforts to raise the further £3million that is required to secure Abbotsford’s long-term future.”