‘Scots must not lose battle of Bannockburn’

The new Bannockburn visitor centre will be at the heart of the action. Picture: Robert Perry
The new Bannockburn visitor centre will be at the heart of the action. Picture: Robert Perry
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TOURISM chiefs will be ordered by MSPs to ensure businesses and the taxpayer are not left out of pocket from controversial celebrations to mark 700 years since the Battle of Bannockburn.

Holyrood’s tourism committee will also haul VisitScotland chiefs back to Holyrood to tackle a string of outstanding concerns over the staging of the heavily-subsidised event.

The move has emerged after the head of Scotland’s clan chiefs said the country’s global reputation had been “damaged” over the running of the event and an unforeseen clash with the UK government’s flagship Armed Forces Day event this summer.

Sir Malcolm MacGregor, convener of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs, has written to the parliament complaining about the “debacle over Bannockburn” and warning that this year’s Homecoming plans were already being dogged by “uncertainty and controversy”.

In an open letter to clan organisations, VisitScotland has promised that “some of the country’s finest performers” will be in the line-up for the event, which had sold just 1,000 tickets at the beginning of this month.

But MSPs are already drawing comparisons between the running of the Bannockburn Live event, which is underwritten to the tune of £650,000 at present, and a controversial clan gathering in 2009, which suffered a dramatic financial collapse, despite advance public funding of £500,000 and an eleventh-hour loan of £180,000.

VisitScotland yesterday denied misleading the Scottish Parliament over the scaling back of plans for the anniversary, which will feature a series of dramatic battle re-enactments.

The body, which has taken over the event from the National Trust for Scotland, has agreed to underwrite it to the tune of £250,000 to ensure it goes ahead at the end of June. It already has a subsidy of £400,000 as a signature event in this year’s “Homecoming” programme.

But it has been told to provide a full update on the running and financing of the event, as well as latest ticket sales, during its next appearance before MSPs.

The body has also admitted for the first time yesterday that poor ticket sales were a factor in a radical overhaul of the event – something it failed to tell MSPs last month.

Murdo Fraser, chair of the tourism committee, said it was not satisfied with VisitScotland chairman Mike Cantlay’s explanation that key changes were not officially agreed until the end of January. Mr Cantlay, who insists VisitScotland only took “full control” of the event earlier that month, said: “On 28 January the Bannockburn Live steering group met, and after a detailed discussion of options and ideas at that meeting, it was agreed to recommend a move to a two-day event.

“Given that the formal marketing of Bannockburn Live has not yet begun, we view ticket sales to be encouraging at this early stage. What is clear though is that demand for tickets on the Monday had been low and far outstripped by demand for tickets on Saturday and Sunday. Hence, after consulting with partners, the logical decision was to focus on the two days where ticket sales were strongest.”

But Mr Fraser said: “Despite receiving a written response from VisitScotland, the committee still has a number of concerns and we have agreed to invite the chair of VisitScotland to appear in mid-March to provide further information and an update on ticket sales.

“We’ll be asking VisitScotland for details of when they were first aware of the planned changes to the event and for assurances that it will at least break even – and that no Scottish business will lose out if they become involved.

“The committee remains supportive of Bannockburn Live and all the other major events set to take place in 2014. We want them to be a success.”