pounds 115,000 DTI grant vanishes down a Moscow golf hole

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The Independent Online
Batting for British business is one thing, and encouraging trade with the hard-up former Eastern bloc is another, but ploughing pounds 115,600 of taxpayers' money into a "golf and country club" for Muscovites seems something else altogether. And when you then forget about the investment for six years, it gets curiouser still. On the evidence of the latest Whitehall leak, however, that seems to be just what the Department of Trade and Industry has done.

An official DTI letter acquired by the Independent on Sunday indicates that the cash was advanced to an entrepreneur based in Regent Street, London, six years ago, but the department's export-promotion officials only got round to asking what had become of it this month.

There may be a perfectly simple explanation, as indeed there might be for wanting to help set up a golf course in Russia's capital city in 1990, but neither was forthcoming last week.

It was on 9 August that Roger Bowler of the Projects Export Promotion Directorate wrote to Mr R Stevens, the chairman of Golf Shows Limited, of 162-168 Regent Street, reminding him of the pounds 115,600 offer of "assistance towards pre-contractual costs" made in December 1988.

The offer had been accepted, Mr Bowler pointed out gently, and the last tranche of cash was paid in September 1990. Could Mr Stevens "provide an update on the current status of the project?"

Directory inquiries have no current entry for Golf Shows at that address, although more than 100 companies are registered there. The DTI Export Promotion Directorate is more accessible. It funds "high risk" bids by British business to win contracts abroad. In 1995/96 it spent pounds 6.3m on 27 projects in 16 countries. As for the club, there is a Golf and Country Club in Moscow, but it was begun in the Seventies and paid for by the Russians.

A Labour spokesman expressed surprise at the affair: "It is astonishing that public money on this scale can be disbursed without any check for six years on whether it has been spent for the purpose intended. If they can give pounds 115,000 for golf courses in Russia and forget to ask any questions, how many more similar grants have been awarded and then disappeared?"