Brandreth grant second highest to be written-off: Chris Blackhurst finds that only two tourist board awards exceeding pounds 200,000 have been scrapped

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Indy Politics
GYLES BRANDRETH, who is MP for Chester and Parliamentary Private Secretary to a Treasury minister, benefited from the second highest grant write-off in the English Tourist Board's history.

Figures released yesterday show that only two ETB grants of pounds 200,000 or more had been scrapped by the Treasury. One, of pounds 200,000, had been made to Mr Brandreth's company, Unicorn Heritage Plc. The other, the highest to date, was of pounds 759,039, made to Slaley Hall, a golf and hotel development near Hexham in Northumberland. In all, only eight grants of pounds 100,000 - the level at which the decision whether to pursue a debt or scrap it lies with the Treasury - have been written-off.

Mr Brandreth's critics, who maintain that his position as PPS to Stephen Dorrell, the Financial Secretary at the Treasury, has been compromised by the department's action, said the figures showed that Unicorn was far from being an ordinary case, as the Government had claimed.

Alan Williams, MP for Swansea West, who elicited the details in an answer to a Parliamentary question, pointed out that Mr Brandreth's was the second highest write-off in 105 made by the Treasury. He also queried its timing.

According to Ian Sproat, the Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage, the tourist board was told by Unicorn's liquidators as long ago as 12 October 1990 that there was little chance of repayment. However, the ETB did not recommend to the department that the debt be written off until August 1992.

Mr Williams trusted it was coincidence that the board did not make a move until well after Mr Brandreth's April 1992 general election campaign.

Slaley Hall, claimed Mr Williams, raised further questions about the ETB's criteria for making grants. Described as 'the Ultimate Dream' in its brochure, the 340-acre complex comprising 140-bedroom hotel to be managed by Sheraton, championship golf course and luxury timeshare lodges, went into receivership in 1991 with debts of pounds 20m.

Slaley was by far the biggest project to date for its two local developers, John Rourke and Seamus O'Carroll.