By Michael Howie
THE Ministry of Defence has intensified a row over unpaid bills for equipment used to police two international summits in Scotland, claiming the money is needed to fight conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The MoD is demanding nearly £400,000 from Tayside and Fife police forces to meet the cost of helicopters and other military facilities used during the G8 and British-Irish summits.
But the police forces have refused to pay the bills, insisting it is a matter for the Scottish Government.
However, the Scottish Government insists Scotland should not have to pick up the bill, as the summits were UK affairs.
The MoD claims it is owed £320,000 by Tayside Police for the G8 at Gleneagles in 2005, as well as £70,000 from Fife Police for the British-Irish summit in St Andrews in 2006.
Angered by the non-payment, the MoD has withdrawn non-emergency military help to both forces.
News of the row broke last month, when it emerged that Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Secretary, had written to the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and Defence Secretary Des Browne on the issue.
Mr MacAskill is seeking to raise the matter at the next joint ministerial committee meeting, which is intended to encourage co-operation between London and the devolved governments.
But the MoD has intensified the war of words, suggesting non-payment of such bills could hinder current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Our dispute is with the police forces. If they have another dispute that's up to them," said a spokeswoman.
"Everyone else who needs our support for events manages to pay their bills. We need this money for our guys on the front-line. We cannot be wasting money or having unpaid bills, because we need the money."
Pressed on whether the unpaid bills were having a direct impact on equipping Britain's armed services in Iraq and Afghanistan, the spokeswoman said: "It's not ideal. If everybody decided not to pay their bills, we might have an issue.
"It's not a massive amount of money but we have an agreement. It's always run very well in the past."
She added: "When police make a request for support, they are told how much it will cost. The MoD has a contract and agrees the cost.
"This is military aid to civil authorities. It's betw
een ourselves and the police. We do this fairly regularly. Until the bill is paid, we will only offer military aid to civil authorities on a life-saving basis.
"We don't have a dispute with the Scottish Government. We are not involved in Westminster business. We provided facilities under an agreement signed by the police forces."
Scottish police forces were given extra central funding to meet the cost of the G8 summit, estimated to be nearly £91 million.
Westminster agreed to contribute one third of the overall bill – leaving taxpayers in Scotland having to pay just over £60 million.
A spokesman for Tayside Police refused to comment yesterday, except to say: "It's a central government issue".
A Fife Constabulary spokeswoman said: "The question of outstanding costs of policing the Irish peace talks in St Andrews in 2006 is being dealt with by the Scottish Government."
The full article contains 545 words and appears in The Scotsman newspaper.
Last Updated: 08 April 2008 10:20 PM