Donald Trump's firm claims up to £500,000 via Covid-19 job fund despite axing staff

The Trump Organisation has been accused of abusing the UK Government’s coronavirus furlough scheme after its flagship Scottish resort claimed up to half a million pounds in taxpayers’ money despite making scores of redundancies.

The former US president’s Scottish firms have received as much as £575,000 via the UK job retention scheme over a two-month window, with at least £110,000 claimed while Mr Trump was still in office.

Union officials who railed against Trump Turnberry’s “all-out assault on jobs and conditions” during the pandemic described it as a “scandal” and have called for an investigation by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

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The former director of the Office of Government Ethics under the Obama and Trump administrations said it was a “disgrace” that UK taxpayers were “propping up” Mr Trump’s business interests.

There is no suggestion of impropriety on the part of Mr Trump’s companies, which are entitled to access the furlough initiative. Other prestigious golf resorts have claimed as much as, if not more, than Mr Trump’s businesses.

But the RMT union said the Trump Organisation’s approach of “hoovering up” public money while axing staff made a “mockery” of a scheme designed to ensure employers retain staff.

It said at least 66 jobs had been lost at Turnberry since last summer, with some staff rehired on inferior terms, which it described as an “abuse” of the emergency initiative.

Mick Cash, the RMT’s general secretary, said: “It is clear to us that at the very least the principles of the job retention scheme appear to have been breached by the Trump Organisation and that should now be subjected to a detailed and forensic investigation by HMRC.”

Donald Trump's Turnberry resort claimed up to £500,000 via the UK government's Covid-19 job fund, despite axing scores of jobs. Picture: Jan Kruger/Getty
Donald Trump's Turnberry resort claimed up to £500,000 via the UK government's Covid-19 job fund, despite axing scores of jobs. Picture: Jan Kruger/Getty

He added: “It's a scandal and as we slowly emerge from lockdown, we are calling for any discarded staff to be re-engaged on decent pay and conditions, and for that same principle to ‎be applied to new employees as well.”

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While the furlough scheme has been operational since March last year, HMRC’s data only details banded payments claimed by employers during December and January.

It shows SLC Turnberry Limited received between £200,000 and £500,000. Trump’s Aberdeenshire resort received between £35,000 and £75,000.

The latest accounts for Turnberry, which predate the pandemic, show it employed an average monthly number of 541 staff in 2009, with an annual wage bill of £8.9 million. Trump’s Aberdeenshire resort employed 84 staff, with a £1.9m wage bill.

Like other hospitality and leisure businesses, Mr Trump’s resorts are entitled to 100 per cent business rates relief for the past year via a Scottish Government Covid-19 mitigation scheme, saving them around £880,000.

Neither of Mr Trump’s Scottish firms have ever turned a profit, meaning they have yet to pay a penny in corporation tax.

Scottish Labour’s Colin Smyth, who has raised the issue of Turnberry’s redundancies at Holyrood, said: “It’s appalling that Trump has been getting bailouts from the UK Government on one hand while handing out redundancy notices to workers with the other.

“This is only the tip of the iceberg and his failing empire will have pocketed even bigger sums from the Scottish Government in rates relief, which has no conditions attached to it when it comes to job retention.”

In the US, the Trump Organisation has been largely prohibited from accessing coronavirus relief packages.

Carolyn Maloney, the Democratic chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee in the US Congress, said last year the company’s pursuit of funding from foreign governments posed “grave” problems around the emoluments clause of the US constitution, which prohibits a president from any profit, gain or advantage received directly or indirectly from foreign administrations.

Walter Shaub, a former director of the US Office of Government Ethics, told The Scotsman: “This is another example of the US legal system failing to enforce the constitutional prohibition on a president's receipt of emoluments.

“It's also concerning because it means a former US president is beholden to a foreign government, which may be less concerning with the UK than with other nations, but is concerning nonetheless.”

Mr Shaub, now a senior ethics fellow at the Washington DC-based Project on Government Oversight, said: “From the UK perspective, I can't imagine the citizenry there would be any more happy than a majority of US citizens were about tax dollars propping up an American president's business interests. It's a disgrace to the very concept of democracy.”

Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, a US ethics watchdog, said: “By linking his business and the power of the presidency, Trump made it impossible for governments to interact with the Trump Organisation without a conflict of interest or fear of reprisal looming over policy decisions."

Jordan Libowitz, communications director for Citizens or Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said: "The fact that Trump got funds to prevent layoffs after already laying off staff only raises further questions. There have long been questions in America about Trump and government aid, stretching back to his taking millions for hurricane damage to Mar-a-Lago that no-one can remember happening.”

The Scotsman asked the Trump Organisation for comment, as well as details of how much it had claimed via the job retention scheme since March last year. It did not respond.

Its firms are not the only high-profile golf resorts to access the job retention scheme.

Gleneagles Hotel Ltd received between £1.5m and £3.5m over the two-month period. However, its head count far exceeds either of Mr Trump’s firms, with an average monthly number of 661 full-time and 306 part-time staff in 2019 and a wage bill of £23.8m.

The Old Course Limited at St Andrews, received between £200,000 and £500,000. It had an average of 455 monthly employees in 2019, with a wage bill of £6.7m.

JPIMedia Publishing Limited, publishers of The Scotsman, claimed between £200,000 and £500,000 via the scheme.

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