Leader: Refreshing change of pace as NTS moves with the times

THE National Trust for Scotland had a reputation for being a rather stuffy, old-fashioned and slow-moving organisation, factors which were said to have contributed to its recent and well-documented financial woes and led to a review of its structure conducted by former Holyrood presiding officer George Reid.

However, less than a year on from Mr Reid's advocacy of a slimmed-down NTS, Scotland's largest membership body is to embark on a revolutionary overhaul in which it aims to become more commercially-minded, intervene to save threatened historic sites and "sweat" its existing assets to make them pay better.

As the NTS's chairman Sir Kenneth Calman reveals today, this will involve on one hand raising money by allowing its sites to be used for everything from corporate events to weddings but using the income this generates to restore run-down castles, neglected islands, an even perhaps more modern buildings such as old cinemas and concert halls.

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Although some of the NTS's 300,000 members may blanche at such blatant commercialisation and fear it will take their charity away from its core purpose of preserving heritage that would otherwise be neglected, there is much modern common sense in the five-year plan advocated by Sir Kenneth and which will be implemented by chief executive Kate Mavor.

The NTS should, of course, preserve the best of heritage, but it has to do so within its means and it is commendable that it is not seeking any government funds to do so, but looking to use the assets it has to generate money and is set to take more difficult decisions by not holding on to some properties which are of little interest or do not pay their way.

In a move to reassure its members, Sir Kenneth has told them this will not be "asset stripping", with no plans to ditch any of its major sites. However, a more pragmatic approach to some of its more obscure assets must surely be right, as is the determination only to take on new properties if there is money bequeathed, or raised, to maintain them.

Furthermore, it is refreshing that NTS is looking to work more closely with government body Scottish National Heritage, with which it has a lot in common. They might, for example, introduce joint ticketing, or even some kind of joint membership in the future, something which most of those who are baffled by the differences between the two bodies would welcome.

As he helps bring a great national institution into the 21st century, the test now for Sir Kenneth is to win the support of the volunteers on whom his organisation relies, and the members who fund it. He has to show he is retaining the best of the NTS philosophy - to conserve, protect and promote Scotland's natural and cultural heritage for present and future generations to enjoy - while moving with the times. He has made a good start.

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