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EXCLUSIVE Tourism companies on expert board overseeing industry recovery were not asked to declare conflicts of interest

TOURISM companies awarded Scottish government grants are sitting on an expert board that oversees the industry’s recovery and were not asked to declare conflicts of interest before joining, a Star investigation can reveal.

Freedom of information responses showed that no members of the Scottish Tourism Recovery Taskforce (STRT) were required to declare any interests on joining the board — and all correspondence regarding the group’s formation had been deleted.

Three companies represented by members of the taskforce have been among the recipients of cash from the Pivotal Enterprise Resilience Fund (Perf) set up last year in response to the pandemic. 

Loch Melfort Hotels, Abbey UK and Jacobite Cruises received a combined £470,000 in Perf funding last year. 

Concerns have been raised by those working in the industry about a lack of oversight of public money, with criticism that the government is implementing a recovery strategy “for owners, by owners.”

The Scottish government has told the Star that members of the STRT were invited due to their expertise. 

A spokeswoman said the taskforce was not directly involved in the formation of any of the grant schemes, but representatives did provide insight “on occasion.” 

However, critics in the industry say that the government has failed to address the issue that STRT appointees were not required to declare their own interests. 

Jon Heggie, of the Scottish Workers Tourism League (STWL), a network of tourism-dependent workers in the Highlands and Islands, said: “The Scottish government has a duty to show how public money is being used for the public good.”

Green MSP John Finnie said the government must be transparent about the financial interests of those it appoints and groups should be “subject to the provisions of the government’s own ethical standards framework.”

Issues concerning the treatment of workers at businesses which received grants have also been raised; STWL members have reported experiences of redundancy and homelessness after being sacked by companies in receipt of grants. 

Filipe Coana was made redundant and forced out of the Lovat Hotel in Fort Augustus, which received £100,000 through Perf, despite an extension of the furlough scheme.

He told the Star that bosses “should give the government’s money back,” claiming managers are “abusing the government’s measures to help people’s lives.”

A spokesman for the Lovat said the matter was confidential, while the government said that any grant applicants are expected to “follow fair work principles.”

Mr Heggie said: “We’ve seen too many owners taking government money with one hand and casting workers aside with the other, instead of using the furlough scheme — sometimes even illegally evicting them.

“The Scottish government faced calls to make these grants conditional on protections for workers but ignored these. So, what we’re seeing is the inevitable outcome of a ‘recovery strategy’ devised for owners, by owners.”

The Greens commented that public funding should enable a recovery that “guarantees secure jobs and embeds trade-union representation.”

And Scottish Labour’s Mercedes Villalba said: “The STRT needs to think again, and the Scottish government must work with trade unions in the sector to create a recovery proposal which prioritises workers’ interests over private profit.”

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