HIE speak hits new low at Cairngorm

While working on Tuesday’s post, I was delighted to get a letter (see here) from the acting Chief Executive of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Charlotte Wright, who has confirmed my claims (see here) that there is NO masterplan at Cairngorm:

So, the acting Chief Executive of HIE now considers the word masterplan inaccurate when it was the  hie news release of 12th April, in which she was quoted, which introduced the term masterplan through its headline “Masterplan Agreed for CairnGorm Mountain”!   While I do appreciate Charlotte Wright might not have seen the HIE News Release which quoted, either it was a deliberate attempt to mislead the public, a lie in normal parlance, or HIE staff would appear to have no understanding of the difference between a “Business Plan” and a “Master Plan”.    Neither explanation inspires much confidence.

 

While the letter is in response to my FOI request, it contains another extraordinary claim:

The statement “we understand that CML have conducted a consultation with………….Scottish Natural Heritage”,  which to most people would imply that these meetings took place without HIE being involved, is totally disingenuous.    HIE staff appear to have been fully involved.   How do we know?  Through SNH’s FOI response to George Paton and myself which provided emails about the “consultation” meetings which included HIE staff members Keith Bryers and Susan Smith.   Here is an example:

Its worth reading the second main paragraph of the email to note the response to the criticism of the mess at Cairngorm last summer which was extensively covered on parkswatch – it may have been discussed but every little was then done about it!

The problems with lack of transparency and misrepresentation at HIE go very deep.   I had also asked HIE for the minute of the April HIE Board Meeting which approved the £4million loan to Natural Retreats but this is still not on their website.  How the £4m (see here) could be agreed by the Board when Charlotte Craig, the Acting Chief Executive, claims in her letter above that “the outcomes postulated in the Business Plan are not finalised or certain of certain”  is difficult to understand and I believe should be a matter of great public concern.   The failure of governance is even worse because the Board know Cairngorm Mountain must be trading at a large loss (see quote below) and should also be aware that Natural Assets Investment Ltd which owns them are effectively bankrupt, so then to approve a loan without an agreed business plan seems quite extraordinary.

 

The minutes of the February HIE meeting have now been published (unlike other public authorities there appear to be no Board Papers in the public realm)  and contain this reference to Cairngorm:

 

At Cairngorm, HIE staff were continuing to work very closely with operating company Natural Retreats, which was suffering from a complete lack of any significant snowfall to date during the 2016/17 winter season. Building local engagement through stakeholder relations remained a key area of focus. A revised masterplan for Cairngorm Mountain Ltd was expected to be presented to the HIE Board in June.

 

Ignore the misrepresentations to the Board – what local engagement to build stakeholder relations has taken place?  – companies don’t have masterplans, only business plans.  A masterplan would be for Cairngorm, not Cairngorm Mountain Ltd.  Perhaps this is an error in the minute but unless there is after all a masterplan, it looks like the business plan was due to be completed in June but for some reason was approved by HIE, incomplete, in April.   If this is the case HIE need to explain why.

 

Keen readers, who read all of Charlotte Craig’s letter, will have noted that HIE are, in response to my FOI,  refusing to divulge the business plan for Cairngorm on the basis that it contains “commercial information that is not publicly available and the disclosure of which would harm the legitimate economic interests of Natural Retreats” and that there is “no public interest in Natural Retreats’ competitors being given access to confidential business information” .     I think this is totally wrong and will appeal.  The public interest is surely in knowing why the business plan is so good that  HIE are prepared to commit a further £4m of public money to Natural Retreats when Cairngorm Mountain Ltd, in the 9 months till December 2015 (see here for full analysis), made an operating loss of £1,219,606 and ended up with net liabilities of £1,316,645.  To make matters even more risky at the end of the same period its parent company, Natural Assets Investment Ltd, had net liabilities of £22,831,678.    Just what is the public justification for lending public money to a company that  only continues to function due to guarantees from its ultimate owner, the hedge fund manager, David Michael Gorton?

 

What needs to happen

 

  • The HIE Board need to get a handle on what staff are presenting to them about Natural Retreats and the plans at Cairngorm
  • Charlotte Craig, the Acting Chief Executive, needs to get a handle on what staff are doing and writing in her name.
  • HIE needs to explain why its lending £4m to a company that appears effectively bankrupt and whose business plan has not been finalised.
  • Audit Scotland should start asking some of these questions

2 Comments on “HIE speak hits new low at Cairngorm

  1. There is no possibility that these problems in the northern Cairngorms will be solved so long as HIE continue to own land on the upper slopes. There is no integration between what happens on the upper slopes, owned by HIE, and the lower slopes, owned by Forestry Commission Scotland. The whole area, from bottom to top of Cairn Gorm, needs to be brought under a single ownership, be it FCS, SNH, Cairngorms National Park Authority or a Local Community buyout. Those operating facilities on the upper slopes need a continuous subsidy from operations lower on the mountain, in the forest zone, or from further afield. Otherwise the Scottish Government will continue to waste huge amounts of public money on the upper slopes, pandering to HIE’s desire to attract massive numbers of people to the Ptarmigan restaurant in a desperate and hopeless attempt to provide financial viability to Natural Retreats’ operations. The local MSP, Fergus Ewing, is also the Cabinet Secretary responsible for both HIE and FCS. It is time that he sorted out this shambles before the economy of Aviemore collapses.

  2. At the meeting with relevant voluntary bodies, organised by the Park last June, regarding the Cairngorm and Glenmore Strategy I came away with the impression that a ‘Cairngorm Masterplan’ would indeed be produced. I thought this plan would include not only outline proposals from Natural Retreats regarding new developments but also how such developments fit in with the rest of the strategy. I thought that planning applications would then follow. I also hoped that the masterpaln would give details of programme to clear up the whole ski area, this was certainly discussed at the meeting. I am pleased to see from one of the emails above that there may now be plans to clear up the ski area but this needs to go beyond just removing ‘unused items and paraphernalia’; it should include collapsing sheds, the removal of any little used tracks and restoration work on any eroded tracks.
    Given that the Cairngorm Masterplan was flagged as an adjunct to the Cairngorm and Glenmore Strategy, do the other organisations who are party to the strategy, particularly the Park, not have a responsibility to ensure a full masterplan is developed? While the managers of Cairngorm Mountain are central to any masterplan, they should not be the owners of it, it ahould be a collaborative initiative driven by all the organisations in the Cairngorm and Glenmore Partnership.

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