Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Mike Russell defends £180k Gathering loan

The minister behind a secret £180,000 loan to organisers of The Gathering in Edinburgh last year has refused to apologise for handing out the cash.

Former culture secretary Mike Russell said the money had allowed the event to go ahead and insisted it would have been a "serious blow" had it failed.

The private firm who received the loan went bust leaving £516,000 debts.

Opposition parties at Holyrood have demanded Mr Russell apologise over the issue.

Iain Smith, Liberal Democrat MSP for North East Fife, said: "He has not only let down the Scottish people, he has let down the many Scottish businesses who have been left out of pocket and are rightly angry by the way they've been treated."

Aberdeen Central MSP Lewis Macdonald from the Labour Party questioned the wisdom of handing over the money.

He said: "The Scottish government needs to learn the lessons of this failure, as Mr Russell has said, but he needs to say sorry too."

Conservative MSP Gavin Brown also questioned whether full background checks had been carried out on the company, registered as The Gathering 2009 Ltd, and their ability to repay the loan.

However a defiant Mr Russell told MSPs: "The Scottish government strongly defends its decision to intervene both prior to and after the event taking place.

"We will not apologise for supporting an event which generated revenue of £10.4m for Scotland and £8.8m for Edinburgh.

"The loss of that income would have been a serious blow to Scotland's tourism industry and to Scotland's tourism around the world."

Details of the loan emerged last week following the publication of an Audit Scotland report.

First Minister Alex Salmond has also faced criticism from his opponents over the issue.

He has said he knew about the loan at the time, but insisted that The Gathering itself generated an estimated £10m for the Scottish economy.

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