Community urged to help with beleagured Highlands ski centre

Fergus Ewing, Rural Economy Secretary
Fergus Ewing, Rural Economy Secretary

Scotland’s public spending watchdog was last night urged to investigate the financial arrangements that led to Cairngorm Mountain Ltd going into administration.

Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie has written to Audit Scotland after raising concerns about the company’s funding at Holyrood.

The company which operates the CairnGorm Mountain Funicular Railway and snowsports centre was placed into administration last week.

However, administrators said they would continue to trade in the hope of selling the business adding that there were no immediate plans for redundancies.

Mr Finnie has since written to Audit Scotland expressing his concern about the use of public funding spent on the ski area.

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“I have repeatedly raised concerns about the use of public finances at Cairngorm, and will continue to do so,” Mr Finnie. “Many constituents have asked me to raise this matter on their behalf, and I have no intention of dropping it, simply to make life easier for a belligerent Cabinet Secretary.

“I have written to Audit Scotland asking that they examine the situation, and confirm that necessary due diligence has taken place.”

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing yesterday said he is “very keen” that locals become involved in running the Cairngorm ski centre as he faced calls for the resort to be taken into community ownership.

Fielding questions at Holyrood, Mr Ewing said Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) officials were working “round the clock” in a bid to secure the facility’s future and that he was working with the community to ensure a successful outcome.

Mr Ewing said funds had been placed with the administrator to ensure the 70 staff kept being paid and promised he was “doing everything possible” to make sure the area was open for business.

Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, Rhoda Grant, asked Mr Ewing to help the community take over the ski area.

Mr Ewing said he was working with the Funicular Response Group, which involved members of the community.

When pressed by Tory MSP Edward Mountain to make sure the community forms “part of the board and have an active say in how the mountain will be managed” Mr Ewing pledged to examine his request.

“I’m certainly happy to give an undertaking that all points raised will be looked at,” the Cabinet Secretary said.

“There is a tremendous amount of knowledge within Badenoch and Strathspey, together with expertise and a number of Olympians, some of whom are making a contribution to this debate.

“Community involvement is something which, of course, we’re very keen on and by working together, I’m very hopeful that we can find a solution.”

The Cairngorm Railway and Mountain Snowsports centre is owned by HIE, who leased it to Cairngorm Mountain Limited, which was recently put into administration by its parent company, Natural Retreats.