Hydro operator accuses ministers of rural persecution

Hugh Raven, managing director of Ardtornish estate. Supplied by Tim Reid PR.

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Scottish Government officials have offered to meet with Ardtornish representatives to discuss concerns over non-domestic rates on hydro schemes.

Hugh Raven, managing director of the plant in Morvern, this week accused SNP MSP’s of ‘unjustly persecuting’ remote, rural businesses because of its failure to resolve a long-running dispute which he believes threatens investment in further hydropower development in the Highlands.

A statement from Holyrood on Tuesday this week said that: ‘A number of Scottish Ministers have met with Ardtornish representatives on several occasions, and most recently, officials have also offered a meeting to discuss Mr Raven’s concerns next week.’

However, later that day, a spokesperson for Mr Raven told us: ‘Ardtornish awaits confirmation of a meeting but hasn’t received one so far.’

As energy prices skyrocket and a greater focus on renewables is required, Mr Raven claims that Ardtornish has been left in a desperate financial state after being ‘clobbered’ with a huge £500,000 tax bill and was forced to axe a fifth of its workforce last year.

With a turnover of £3m per year, Ardtornish is ineligible for some reliefs available to other hydro operators in Scotland because of state aid rules.

In a letter to Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Kate Forbes MSP, Mr Raven stated: ‘We find it difficult to accept your insistence that you are powerless to help resolve a long-running injustice which we and several other of your constituents are facing with non-domestic rates on hydro schemes.

‘The Scottish Government has made it abundantly clear that it can intervene when it chooses. So, we appeal to you again to do so in this case before further damage to the renewable sector is done.’

Mr Raven says the Scottish Government’s decision to underwrite the business activities of Lochaber aluminium smelter boss Sanjeev Gupta – who also owns around 166,000 acre private landed estate – to the tune of £161 million, proves that it is willing to brush aside policy when it wishes to intervene.

His letter to Ms Forbes states: ‘Your department ensured that the largest private estate to change hands in Scotland for decades remained in private ownership – over the heads of plans for a local community buyout. In so doing, your department disregarded Scottish Government policy (to bring more land into community ownership) because ministers thought another outcome was more desirable.’

Mr Raven believes the Scottish Government’s finance department also disregarded its own rules for deploying public funding by issuing guarantees to a large private landowner to the value, according to Audit Scotland, of £161m.

‘In other words, in central Lochaber, your department disregarded Scottish Government policy at colossal expense because ministers thought another outcome was more desirable,’ he told them.

‘You have spoken before about the priority you attach to retaining, and in the case of Lochaber, boosting the population in remote areas. The unjust persecution of remote businesses is having the opposite effect. Here is an opportunity within your powers to do precisely what you have said you wish to see.’

The Scottish Government spokesperson added: ‘We value the contribution that the hydro sector makes to the Scottish economy and to our low carbon ambitions, which is why it has delivered the most generous non-domestic rates relief in the UK for renewables generators, including hydro schemes.

‘The Scottish Government is still awaiting clarity on the subsidy framework that the UK Government is currently seeking to establish through the UK Subsidy Control Bill.’