Lack of demand puts paid to Holyrood letting out parliament for functions

Holyrood bosses thought they had hit on a money-spinner when they started letting out parts of the Scottish Parliament for dinners, receptions, conference and seminars.

Firms have been able to hire rooms at the Scottish Parliament on days when MSPs are not sitting. Picture: Jayne Wright.
Firms have been able to hire rooms at the Scottish Parliament on days when MSPs are not sitting. Picture: Jayne Wright.

But instead of raking in profits, the use of the £414 million building for commercial events has ended up making a loss.

Companies, charities and other organisations have been able to hire rooms at the parliament on days when MSPs are not sitting at a cost of £1,250 for the members’ restaurant or £1,500 for the main hall.

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However, in the past financial year only two commercial events have been held – not the seven projected. Now Parliament bosses have agreed to wind down the operation.

A report to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) said: “There is no obvious reason why the actual pick-up was less than anticipated.”

An initial six-month pilot up to March 2015, hiring out only the members’ restaurant, saw seven commercial events held there that made a profit of around £12,000.

A report to the SPCB at the time said some enquiries had to be turned down because the restaurant would not accommodate the numbers.

The document said if the main hall had also been available, it could have made a further profit of £20,000 to help reduce the overall catering subsidy at the parliament.

But the latest report said between October 2016 and March this year, commercial events saw income of £116,389 against total costs of £127,138 – a loss of £10,749.

Five confirmed events up to September are expected to generate a profit of £3,693, but there will still be a loss over the past two years of £7,506.

Edinburgh Western Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Clearly the business case for using our nation’s parliament for commercial events was not sound.

“Taxpayers will be rightly concerned that their money has subsidised corporate ventures in the parliament.

“I have a lot of time for parliamentary staff and indeed the corporate body.

“Everyone makes mistakes, but this cannot be allowed to continue.

“We are not a commercial outfit. We have a duty of care for taxpayers’ resources.”

Lothian Conservative MSP Miles Briggs said it was right for the SPCB to try renting out rooms for corporate events, but also right not to continue it if it had not made money.

He said: “I think many people will be surprised that interest in using the parliament building as a venue for corporate events has been so limited, although the restriction, which means these events understandably can only be held on non-parliamentary days, has clearly meant many organisations have been unable to consider Holyrood.

“This may be an issue the corporate body wish to revisit in future if new ways of attracting corporate clients are developed or demand increases.”

A Scottish Parliament spokesman said: “The SPCB agreed in 2016 to adopt a commercial events service on the understanding it would contribute positively to reducing subsidy levels.

“A recent review of the service confirmed it was not achieving this aim.

“The SPCB therefore agreed to cease the commercial event service from the end of September.”