The American entrepreneur Donald Trump has failed to deliver on pledges to create thousands of jobs through a supposed billion-pound investment that were key to planning approval for his hugely controversial Scottish golf resort, an investigation has found.
By his own admission, Mr Trump has created no more than 200 of his promised 6,000 jobs and is thought to have spent just £25m on the scheme while bulldozing environmentally sensitive areas of the Scottish coast, according to a new analysis of the scheme’s finances.
The striking shortfall between Mr Trump’s pipe dream and the realities of the venture, uncovered by the BBC’s Panorama team, leaves Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, facing questions over his judgement in intervening – while Mr Trump continues to be under scrutiny himself concerning business links in the United States with a violent ex-convict who has previous Mafia links.
The row centres on Mr Trump’s ambitions to create a vast golfing complex in an area he has rebaptised the “Great Dunes of Scotland”, claiming to create the best course in the world but greatly angering some residents. They had resisted the plans drawn up by Mr Trump – whose signature “You’re fired!” catchphrase from the original US Apprentice TV show has been adopted by Sir Alan Sugar in the British version.
As local MSP, Mr Salmond personally rang Scotland’s chief planning officer while he was with the Trump lawyer after the plan was rejected by the local infrastructure committee in his Aberdeenshire constituency.
The man leading Scotland’s drive for independence has seen little political or economic reward for his efforts, however. Mr Trump’s plans for the Menie estate should have created thousands of jobs by building two golf courses, a five-star 450-bed hotel, 500 homes and 950 short-term lets.
To date, Mr Trump’s own representatives put the number at only 200 new jobs – and Panorama estimates on the basis of the latest accounts (to December 2011), that only £25m has been spent with just one golf course and a temporary clubhouse to show for it so far.
In 2008, Mr Salmond boasted: “The balance of opinion among people in the north-east of Scotland and among my constituents is very strongly in favour. And that’s because we can see the social and economic benefits.
“I mean, 6,000 jobs across Scotland, 1,400 local and permanent jobs here in the north-east of Scotland – that’s a very powerful argument which outweighs the environmental concerns.”
Mr Salmond admits that the lack of progress on the Trump estate has been a major setback given his support. He told Panorama: “I’m disappointed that the plans haven’t gone ahead as originally envisaged, I hope they will do.”
Mr Trump’s failure so far to deliver his vision does not appear to have harmed his own interests. It is believed the planning permissions for the land have helped boost the value of his Scottish estate, bought for £7m, by at least £100m.
This has led some to suspect that Mr Trump may have embarked on the scheme with an eye to the land’s potential resale value. But Mr Trump says the reason the development has stalled is the prospect of 11 offshore wind turbines being built within sight of his golf courses. He claims Mr Salmond had assured him such a scheme would not go ahead – he has since labelled Mr Salmond “Mad Alex” and launched legal action to prevent the wind farm being built.
Mr Salmond rejects Mr Trump’s claims about a wind farm promise, adding that no investor can expect to dictate Scotland’s energy policy.
Asked whether he was calling the First Minister a liar, Mr Trump said: “Maybe he has a bad memory.”
The First Minister’s intervention in the planning application came in December 2007 – the same month as news broke in the US that one of Mr Trump’s associates was connected to the Mafia – but the blowback for the two men continues to the present.
Back then, Mr Trump had a problem. The plans for the golf complex had been blocked by a key committee of Aberdeenshire Council.
Mr Salmond, who serves as the local constituency MSP as well as leading the devolved assembly in Holyrood, met Mr Trump’s team in an Aberdeen hotel on a Monday, phoned Scotland’s chief planner and then handed the phone to Trump’s lawyer. The chief planner and the lawyer arranged to meet the next day. That same day, the Scottish government “called in” Aberdeenshire’s decision to block the Trump plan. It was ultimately overturned by ministers after a public inquiry.
Jed Griffiths, former president of the Royal Town Planning Institute and in planning for 40 years, was asked if he had come across a case like it. “Never, not in my entire career,” he said.
A Scottish parliamentary committee in 2008 found the “call in” technically competent but judged Mr Salmond’s actions “extremely unwise” and “cavalier”, displaying “exceptionally poor judgement” – and to suggest any MSP could set up a meeting at 24 hours’ notice “stretches credibility to breaking point”.
Mr Salmond told Panorama: “I was there as the constituency member of the Scottish Parliament. I’d no government decision role in the planning. I was taken out of that when it was a project in the constituency. No, I don’t regret it.”
‘Panorama: The Trouble With Trump’ will be shown on BBC1 on Monday night at 8.30pm