THE Scottish Government spent almost £500,000 sending First Minister Alex Salmond and his entourage on a week-long trip to the Ryder Cup in Chicago.
SNP politicians were accompanied by 12 Scottish government officials and another 22 from VisitScotland and Scottish Development International, the quango set up to attract overseas business to Scotland.
In a written response to the question from Labour, external affairs secretary Fiona Hyslop stated: “The overall cost of Team Scotland’s participation at the 2012 Ryder Cup was £468,580 and every effort was made to minimise costs, including liaising with partner organisations to secure preferred rates where possible, and identifying in-kind support.
“The Team Scotland approach in Chicago will help ensure we maximise the economic benefits of hosting the Ryder Cup in 2014, which will generate at least £100 million for the Scottish economy.”
Scotland’s role as the host of the 2014 Ryder Cup at Glen- eagles saw Mr Salmond lead a delegation to the Medinah course outside Chicago where the European team mounted a memorable comeback to defeat the US and retain the trophy.
The total cost of the trip came to light in the Scottish Government’s answer to a question tabled by the SNP MSP Clare Adamson.
The response revealed that £468,580 was spent on the excursion in September. It said the Ryder Cup 2014 Host Nation Agreement “obliged” a Scottish delegation to be at Medinah for the handover.
Wales was under a similar obligation before it hosted the tournament at Celtic Manor in 2010 and had to attend the 2008 match in Kentucky.
Labour, however, cited figures that showed that the total cost of having a Welsh Assembly presence at three Ryder Cups was about £530,000.
In figures released by VisitScotland last night, more than £80,000 was spent on accommodation, more than £202,000 was spent on “programme delivery” and exhibition stands cost more than £83,000. Flights came to more than £54,000.
Patricia Ferguson, the Labour MSP, said: “To find out that Alex Salmond’s trip to watch the golf cost all of us almost half a million pounds is eye-watering.
“The Welsh government can spend about the same, but attend three Ryder Cups. Why does Alex Salmond cost us so much more?
“This comes on top of the tens of thousands of pounds spent on his trip to the opening of Brave in California earlier this year.
“Alex Salmond has no shame. At a time of such severe cuts to public spending and thousands continue to lose their jobs, for [him] to be spending such sums is outrageous.”
Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: “Like most taxpayers, I am astonished that the costs incurred bear more relation to a head of state with a travelling circus than to the more modest expense which would have been appropriate and justifiable.
“It seems that even when using taxpayers’ money, Alex Salmond doesn’t do modest.”
In her answer to the parliamentary question, Ms Hyslop claimed “every effort” was made to minimise costs. “Ministers carried out an extensive programme of targeted engagement with high-level business, media, tourism and civic leaders, to develop relationships, support potential and existing inward investment in Scotland, and to promote Scotland, as the home of golf, and the host of the 2014 Ryder Cup.
“The First Minister’s work in Chicago also included a number of business meetings which secured over 140 new jobs and tens of millions in new investment from US based companies who are successfully expanding their operations in Scotland.”