How the unelected quango that is Scottish Enterprise, with ACSEF’s blessing, put business before our environment and won the day for Trump is the question. However, getting information about what happened is a bit like pulling teeth. Suzanne Kelly reports on her recent bids to obtain information from Scottish Enterprise about its engagement with Trump.
Well, we’ll do that if you are a foreign billionaire.
Much has been written about the relationships between Scotland’s First Ministers McConnell and Salmond, Scottish Enterprise and Donald Trump. There have been dinners both sides of the Atlantic with these key players.
The Ministerial Code prohibiting such blatant support for pending planning applications was certainly bent if not broken.
New information has come to light through Freedom of Information requests. A letter from Scottish Enterprise’s Jack Perry to Trump following their dinner is the sort of love letter that would have made Dame Barbara Cartland blush. The new FOI requests have also raised some important questions.
Anomalies between the disclosed information and the facts do not always seem to add up.
Love-letters Straight from the Heart
Scottish Enterprise – an unelected, taxpayer funded quango provided support to the Trump organisation. It is clear the organisation should deal with foreign investors. Why, however, it should have recommended – and successfully so – overriding environmental protection status to create a golf club is a mystery.
Another mystery is why the taxpayer should have spent over £30,000 on a feasibility study, or provided £40,000 helicopter flights over Menie to a billionaire.
After meeting in New York for dinner with Trump, this is what then head of Scottish Enterprise, Jack Perry wrote a letter to the Donald, which can be found here: http://menie-estate-report.yolasite.com/
The letter raises a few points as well as raising the bar in obsequiousness. In order of appearance, these include the following.
1. Perry put pressure on the head of the Shire council in the form of a letter ‘registering his profound dismay’. Scottish Enterprise could either have suggested new potential, less contentious locations for a course. It could have stayed out of the political side of things. It chose to write to the head of regional government to ‘register dismay’.
2. More importantly, Perry puts it on the table: The Scottish Government favoured the plans.
“We concur with the Scottish Government’s contention that this is genuinely a project of national importance to Scotland.”
The rejected planning application was called in by the Government, who had let its support of the plan be known in December of 2007. With this predisposition noted by close government quango head Perry, how could there have been any chance of a fair outcome? What exactly was this partiality based on? Was it the extremely favourable business projections – which now seem rather unrealistic to say the least?
3. Perry lobbies the other parties’ shadow ministers. As he put it:-
“I have tried to make it clear in these discussions that the impact of Aberdeenshire Council’s decision goes far beyond the immediate issues of the Trump development but has much wider implications for Scotland’s International image and reputation as a country which welcomes investment.”
Is it really part of the remit of Scottish Enterprise to not only lobby, but to lodge a veiled threat that saying no to this project would have ‘wider implications’?
The head of a multi-million pound quango and the influence of ACSEF, Scottish Enterprise’s Regional Advisory Board – itself unelected but taxpayer funded – could be very intimidating indeed. Indeed, Patrick Machray, then head of ACSEF, was singled out for praise in the support he lent to the Trump project, and was copied on this letter.
Perry closes his letter:-
“As Scotland’s principal economic development agency, we at Scottish Enterprise wish to see your development proceed. We will continue to do what we can to help.”
And indeed they did.
Do we really want to be funding unelected bodies, Scottish Enterprise and ACSEF, to act in a manner that sidesteps or pressurises our elected officials? It seems we do.
Freedom of Information Conundrums
Getting information should be easy, and responses to FOI requests accurate and complete. The recent replies received from Scottish Enterprise raise as many questions as they answer. Here are some issues arising.
A fairly comprehensive question was posed as to any hospitality/gifts that might have been received from the Trump organisation:-
“3. Details of any hospitality (event, gift, accommodation, etc.) offered to any member of Scottish Enterprise or Visit Scotland from Trump International (including Donald Trump, Trump International Golf Links Scotland, Trump International, and The Trump Organization) which pertains to the Menie Estate, Balmedie, SSSIs, setting up business in Scotland, environmental laws, finance available for golfing ventures in Scotland).”
The answer sounded reasonable enough at first:-
“In accordance with Section 17(1)(b) of FOISA, I can confirm that Scottish Enterprise holds no information relating to any gifts or money received from Trump International, or the other related parties listed. To comply with Scottish Enterprise’s Code of Conduct, the organisation maintains a register of gifts and hospitality received by employees from companies. I confirm that a search of the register has been undertaken and no entries relating to gifts or hospitality from Trump have been registered.”
However, Jack Perry’s letter to Donald Trump opens as follows:-
“You may or may not recall that I had the pleasure in October 2005 of joining you for lunch in the Trump Tower with the then First Minister, Mr Jack McConnell….”
Who exactly paid for this lunch? While much has been written about the subject, it is not at present clear whether the taxpayer paid for the lavish meal (steaks and shrimp in Trump Tower are not exactly inexpensive), or whether Trump did. If it was the taxpayer, how extremely generous of us, particularly when McConnell should not have been there anyway.
If it was Trump, then the cost should have appeared on Jack Perry’s hospitality details: Scottish Enterprise are saying no hospitality had been registered.
An excellent article on this meeting can be found in the Scotsman at http://www.scotsman.com/news/scottish-news/top-stories/how-jack-of-clubs-came-up-trumps-for-donald-1-1411884
It mentions two helicopter flights paid for by Scottish Enterprise– the Scottish taxpayer picked up the tab. The Scotsman article reports:-
“The billionaire’s golf company was lavished with attention. Two memos released by SE show that – at a cost of £4,800 to the public purse – the agency paid for two helicopter tours of Scotland, taking in the golf course site, as they showed off the country to their deep-pocketed American friends.
“A further e-mail shows they offered to meet the £40,000-50,000 cost of a feasibility study into the Menie Links site. Trump’s people were impressed, “raving” in August last year about the way enterprise agency officials were courting them. All was set fair for a deal.”
However, when asked a fairly clear question about funding:-
“2. Details of any funding applied for, granted, or rejected for Trump International (including Donald Trump, Trump International Golf Links Scotland, Trump International, and The Trump Organization) which pertains to the Menie Estate, Balmedie, SSSIs, setting up business in Scotland, environmental laws, finance available for golfing ventures in Scotland) by Visit Scotland and Scottish Enterprise.”
The reply ignored these flights:-
“I can confirm, in accordance with Section 17(1)(b) of FOISA, that Scottish Enterprise holds no information within the scope of your request. SE has not received any applications for funding, and has not granted, or rejected any applications for funding for Trump International, or the other related parties listed.”
It seems fairly evident that supplying flights worth c. £40,000 would have constituted funding granted. Money was spent in connection to the Menie Estate.
3. Time Warp
A FOI question pertained to the quote from Jack Perry appearing on the Trump website. This quote reads:-
“As Head of Scottish Enterprise, Scotland’s main economic, enterprise innovation and investment agency, I welcome the progress on Trump International Golf Links’ development in Aberdeenshire. The overall aim of Scottish Enterprise’s Tourism strategy is to achieve higher value add through the development of such premium resorts and experiences for visitors.
“We value the commitment which the Trump organisation is demonstrating by commencing work on the site at Menie, as this type of new resort development, will deliver modern, high quality accommodation and facilities to Scotland. This is critical to our ambition to help Scotland realise more value from our tourism assets. The development will attract higher spending visitors from across the UK and overseas and will further support Scotland’s position in the global market as the Home of Golf.”
“Jack Perry, Chief Executive, Scottish Enterprise”
The website did not pre-exist the course. The quote refers to work commencing on the site.
Scottish Enterprise would have us believe, however, that no correspondence took place between it and Trump. The FOI had specified that correspondence from 2008 onward was being requested. Bearing in mind the pre-approval letter from Perry to Trump was from December 2007. This was the FOI question:-
“1. Copies of correspondence to and from Visit Scotland and Scottish Enterprise on the one part and Trump International (including Donald Trump, Trump International Golf Links Scotland, Trump International, and The Trump Organization) on the other part, pertaining to the Menie Estate, Balmedie, SSSIs, setting up business in Scotland, environmental laws, finance available for golfing ventures in Scotland).”
In February this was the answer to that question:-
“We have carried out a search of our files and can advise, in accordance with Section 17(1)(b) of FOISA, that Scottish Enterprise holds no information within the scope of your request.”
As it seemed unlikely that a quotation from Perry got onto the Trump website with no correspondence taking place; a new FOI was launched. The question SE was now asked included the quotation taken from Trump’s website. This simply could not have been made before 2008 – not with the reference to work commencing.
The December 2007 letter to Trump from Perry was before the subsequent government approval of the scheme. It was time to ask Scottish Enterprise to explain, and the following questions were sent;-
“2.1 Given the answer supplied below, that no correspondence took place between Scottish Enterprise and the Trump Organisation, please explain how the above text was sent to the Trump organisation, under what circumstances, and at whose instigation.
“2.2 Please also explain the apparent inconsistency with your previous reply that there had been no correspondence between the two entities.
“2.3 If it now seems that there was correspondence between the two entities, please now submit such correspondence.”
When thus virtually cornered, SE replied:-
“Following an extensive search of files, I can confirm, in accordance with Section 17(1)(b) of FOISA that SE does not hold any information to respond to your question. Any communication officers that could have dealt directly with the Trump Organisation have since left Scottish Enterprise and, in accordance with our retention policy, we would no longer hold files which would allow us to confirm how the quote referred to above was provided to the Trump Organisation.
“Your previous FOI requested information held from 2008 onwards. The response provided was therefore accurate within the scope of your request.
“Please find attached a letter from Mr Perry, former CEO of SE, to Donald Trump dated 7 December 2007. I confirm that this is all of the information held within the scope of your request.”
The correspondence ends with the statutory advice that an investigation of how the FOI request was handled can be requested. It is a fair bet to assume it will be.
If an organisation like this quango doesn’t keep correspondence – including that sent on behalf of its CEO – then accountability simply doesn’t exist.
Does Scottish Enterprise have carte blanche and a blank chequebook? We could be forgiven for thinking so.
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