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Tough decisions will need to be made on Cairngorm railway

By Gavin Musgrove

The Auditor General for Scotland has said Highlands and Islands Enterprise has some very difficult decisions ahead to make on the Cairngorm funicular.

A holding position has been adopted by the public accounts watchdog with Caroline Gardner stating she intends to provide a further report next Spring to the Scottish Parliament on the situation.

The Cairngorm funicular has been out of action since last September because of safety concerns about the concrete pillars supporting the two kilometres of track.
The Cairngorm funicular has been out of action since last September because of safety concerns about the concrete pillars supporting the two kilometres of track.

The report does reveal Cairngorm Mountain owners HIE will be allowed to overspend for a second year because of the cost associated with taking over the failed business last Autumn.

The Scottish Government provided HIE with approval to overspend by up to £2.3 million in 2018/19.

In the event, HIE's total overspend across all its activities was £1.8 million.

The further level of overspend allowed has yet to be agreed by the Scottish Government.

The figure will likely be determined in a large way by the cost and scheduling of reinstating the operation of the funicular.

There are hopes that repair work can get under way in May 2020.

Ms Gardner said: “Highlands and Islands Enterprise intends to repair and reopen the funicular but it is not clear how much it will cost to do so or what impact it will have on HIE's financial sustainability.

"HIE has recognised these risks and raised them with the Scottish Government. Tough decisions are likely to be required over the coming months.

"As a result, I have decided to prepare a further report on the Cairngorm funicular railway which I expect to present to the Scottish Parliament by spring 2020.”

There is no comment in the short seven page report by the Auditor General on HIE's decision to award Natural Retreats a 25-year lease in 2014 to run Cairngorm Mountain.

The previous operator (trading as Cairngorm Mountain Ltd) has been accused of using the vitally important local attraction as a cash cow by taking out excessive administration costs while investing little of their own money.

The Auditor General's report instead states: "The circumstances of CML entering administration and the future of the Cairngorm funicular railway have generated significant public and media interest.

"It is important that HIE can demonstrate that its decision to transfer CML to NAIL was robust, that it managed its relationship with CML well and that its decision-making around events leading to the company's administration was robust and well-founded."

An HIE spokesman said: “Cairngorm is a key asset for Scotland, and the ski area in particular has played a significant role in the local economy over many decades.

“The Section 22 report is an extremely helpful summary of what happened at Cairngorm Mountain over recent years.

"We will do everything we can to support the Auditor General in the upcoming Section 23 review.”

The Auditor General of Scotland's role is to examine how bodies spend public money and whether they are achieving value for money.

More on this story in next week's Strathy.

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