Former top civil servant to be grilled over Gathering

SCOTLAND'S former top civil servant is to be called out of retirement and quizzed on his role in the controversial bail-out of The Gathering.

The Scottish Parliament's audit committee plans to ask Sir John Elvidge, who stepped down as Permanent Secretary last month, to appear before it when it looks into the 180,000 secret loan which the Scottish Government paid to the company behind last summer's event.

It was Sir John who took the decision to write off the loan after The Gathering 2009 Ltd made a loss of over 500,000 despite massive public funding. He persuaded other public sector bodies to write off money they were owed too.

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Also appearing after the summer recess are former Culture Minister Mike Russell, who sanctioned the loan in the first place, and Jamie Sempill, the former Tory peer who set up The Gathering 2009 Ltd.

Lothian Labour MSP George Foulkes, a member of the audit committee, said: "Depending on what we hear, it may be we will have to call Alex Salmond to give evidence."

When Sir John appeared before the same committee earlier this year, he was accused by convener Hugh Henry of delivering "a huge amount of b*******" as he gave evidence about the resignation of Transport Scotland chief executive Dr Malcolm Reed. He was subsequently criticised by the committee over the "unwarranted" 61,000 golden goodbye paid to Dr Reed.

A report by Audit Scotland into The Gathering said the 180,000 short-term, interest-free loan was intended to overcome a cashflow problem, but it said the government did not complete robust checks of the company's ability to repay the loan and did not inform other public sector bodies because they feared if news of the loan leaked out it would jeopardise the event.

In the end, income for The Gathering fell well below forecasts and in September the company told the government it could not repay the loan.

Despite debts totalling 726,000, The Gathering was hailed as a success, with 47,000 visitors, and credited with generating 10.4m for the Scottish economy. Audit Scotland said ministers were keen to protect the reputation of the event to allow further economic benefits to be generated for Scotland through future Gathering events and sought an alternative buyer for the company.

No buyer was found, the company went into liquidation and 103 private sector companies are still owed 344,000.

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