The First Minister faced a call to review the Scottish Government’s decision to progress the Cairngorm Funicular Railway repair works without providing HIE additional funding to do so, a move Edward Mountain MSP has claimed “will cripple HIE and Highland businesses.”
Highlands and Islands MSP, Edward Mountain raised the issue of Funicular Railway repairs during a session of First Minister’s Questions following reports that the Scottish Government had sanctioned the continuation of the project without guaranteeing additional funding would be made available to HIE.
Internal documents shared recently with the Herald on Sunday, showed SNP Business Minister, Ivan McKee, sanctioning continuing with the repair project as the "least worst option" while warning additional finance could not be guaranteed by the Scottish Government.
The same set of documents also revealed Highlands and Islands Enterprise expressing concern about how the additional repairs will be paid for within its budget.
During FMQs, Edward Mountain MSP asked:
“First Minister, we now know the Scottish Government have decided to make HIE fund the additional repairs of the Cairngorm Funicular Railway. This will have to come from HIE’s annual £64m budget.
“We know the repair bill will be well in excess of £20m. When the Scottish Government made this decision they knew that as a consequence, some Highland businesses would lose their financial support from HIE.
“Will the Government review this decision which I believe will cripple HIE and Highland businesses?”
First Minister replied:
“We want to support Highland businesses and we will continue to work with HIE to make sure that we can deliver on its priorities.
“I will look at this particular issue in light of the question in more detail and I’m happy to come back to the member in due course once I’ve had the opportunity to do so.”
Following FMQs, Edward Mountain MSP commented:
“Cairngorm Funicular Railway must be repaired, but this should not come at the expense of other Highland businesses supported by HIE.
“HIE have admitted in internal briefings that they do not have the capacity within their existing budget to meet the additional costs of fixing the funicular. The repair bill is substantial and will have, as HIE said themselves, a disproportionate impact on the agency’s ability to support Highland businesses.
“Therefore, I question why the Scottish Government have made the decision not to provide the extra funding required. If this decision is not reviewed, Highland businesses will lose out.
“I welcome that the First Minister has now promised to look into this issue in greater details and, after she has done, I would urge her to reconsider the Scottish Government’s decision to hold back further funding from HIE to complete the repair works.