Scottish Government spends £400,000 on unclaimed energy prize

The Scottish Government has spent almost £400,000 of taxpayers' money on a prize for marine energy which has still not been awarded more than a decade after it was announced, it has been revealed.

The prize was first was first announced by the former First Minister Alex Salmond in April 2008. Picture: Scott Louden

The true cost to the public of the Saltire Prize, which was announced by the former First Minister Alex Salmond in April 2008, is likely to be significantly higher as four years are unaccounted for.

Ministers have spent a total of £393,546.09 running the award since the 2012 financial year, according to documents published following a Freedom of Information request.

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When it was launched, the £10m Saltire Prize for innovation in marine energy technology was trumpeted as the largest of its kind.

Its aim was to help the commercial development of wave and tidal energy technology, but the deadline for the award passed last summer with no firm named as the winner.

While a handful of companies have been in the running for the prize over the years, none were able to meet the criteria and several have even gone into administration.

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Despite the problems, the Scottish Government has pressed on with the Saltire Prize and now says it it is “considering options” for “reshaping the award” so it can finally be won.

A breakdown of the prize’s costs show that its evolution has proved costly.

More than £68,000 was spent on rebranding and secondment work in 2012/13, while a further £3,760 went on a “redesign study” in April 2014.

The documents also show that £162,000 has been spent on “resourcing costs” for the Saltire Prize Challenge committee, the panel of experts tasked with overseeing the award.

Over the past six years the Committee has also racked up an expenses bill of more than £6,300, while a further £3,570 was spent on dinners, catering, venue hire and launches relating to the prize.

Another £60,000 was spent running the Junior Saltire Prize, an annual competition for school pupils, while £48,418 went on sponsored PhDs. Both schemes were discontinued in 2016.

The actual amount spent on the prize since 2008 is likely to be much higher, as the Scottish Government said its accounting system “only has details of payments from 2012/13 onwards”.

Donald Cameron, environment spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, said: “It’s critical we encourage innovative ideas in all sectors of government, and the environment is of particular importance.

“Therefore, not only is this a massive waste of money, but it represents a serious missed opportunity.”

Liam McArthur MSP, energy spokesman for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said it had been clear “for quite some time” that the Saltire Prize was “dead in the water”.

“Ministers can’t kid themselves or the public that ‘steady as she goes’ is a credible strategy when it comes to the Saltire Prize,” he added.

“This prize money was supposed to spark innovation and put Scottish marine renewables on the global map. As things stand, all ministers are likely to achieve is growing industry-wide frustration.”

The Scottish Government has been approached for comment.

This story was first published by the i, a sister title of The Scotsman