Scottish National Trust plan aims to cut losses

MATHEW LITTLE

The National Trust for Scotland has launched a radical plan of devolution to regional offices and property managers in an attempt to reverse a decline in income and fall in visitor numbers.

The trust is losing £1.5 million a year and has seen the number of paying visitors to its 120 properties drop from 1.8 million in 1997 to 1.35 million in 2000.

Under a radical review of practices approved by the trust's council earlier this month, and designed to ensure the trust breaks even by 2004, property managers have been given the right to hire new staff, improve customer facilities and hold events without approval from the charity's head office in Edinburgh.

They will also be allowed to spend more of the money earned from visitors on maintaining and repairing properties.

Responsibility for local marketing, and conservation and education policies has been devolved to the trust's four regional offices.

The trust's senior management board has been cut from 10 to eight to reduce bureaucracy.

The review was initiated by the trust's new chief executive Robin Pellew, a former director of WWF-UK, who joined in October. He said: "Because we seek to attract paying visitors to many of our properties - the highly competitive field of visitor attractions - we must be businesslike in our approach. The range and diversity of properties the trust manages is breath-taking. We also have a hugely talented and motivated staff. We need to unlock this potential by upgrading our working practices. This is what the review is all about."

The trust's trading arm is also to be revamped with the introduction of new products such as high-quality rainwear and National Trust gardening accessories. A trust cruise around the coast of Scotland, visiting trust properties also takes place in May.

The review has also led to the decision to enhance the trust's lobbying role. "We intend to make our opinions on environmental and land-access issues more widely known,

said a spokesman. He said the trust would build up its influence with the Scottish Executive.

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