Mount Stuart hits back over ‘absentee laird’ claims

The chief executive of the Mount Stuart Trust has accused a senior MSP of conducting a “personal attack” on its staff.

Connie Lovel spoke after Rob Gibson, the SNP chair of the Scottish Parliament’s rural affairs committee, told a national newspaper that he believed Johnny Bute was “an absentee laird”, said the island’s tenant farmers feared being individually targeted by their landlord, and accused the Trust of making “no attempt whatsoever” to do anything with its empty properties.

Mr Gibson’s comments came after he and two of his committee colleagues visited Bute in May to meet tenant farmers and representatives of the Trust, as part of the committee’s ongoing investigation into the relationship between tenants and landlords across Scotland.

Mrs Lovel said: “The attack on the Mount Stuart Trust by Mr Gibson is unjust and appears to imply that the Trust operates a business ethic tantamount to bullying - which is categorically not how we operate.

“Mount Stuart strives to maintain constructive and productive relationships with the farming community on Bute.

“All of the management team at Mount Stuart Trust have open communication with our tenants and residents. It is grossly unfair to paint a picture which implies current day staff at Mount Stuart Trust operate in an inappropriate manner.

“This is a personal attack on hard working, decent and very genuinely good people who engage with tenants and residents on a daily basis.”

Mr Gibson’s SNP colleague, Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell, told The Buteman: “It is very important to have the most productive relationship possible between landlord and tenant and if that has broken down in any way every effort must be made to mend it.

“The health of agriculture on the island - and a great deal of the island’s individual and collective prosperity - depends on ensuring this is done.”

* The Mount Stuart Trust’s full response to Rob Gibson’s comments can be read in the July 20 edition of The Buteman - on sale now.

“The estate was bequeathed by the late Marquess of Bute to the Mount Stuart Trust, an independent charity, which is responsible for ensuring that Mount Stuart house and its surrounding lands can be enjoyed by the people of Scotland, and beyond.

“The Marquess, John Bute, and his family make no financial gain from the estate’s running. The highest standards of governance apply between the Bute family and the Trust.

“The suggestion that no attempt has been made by the Estate to do anything with vacant properties is also misleading and inaccurate.

“Mount Stuart Trust engaged the services of Glasgow based architects Page Park to work with the estate to develop a long term masterplan project for properties across the Estate. Phase one of that project was completed at the end of 2011, which involved the refurbishment of some of the Estate properties.

“The Trust continues to raise funds for the furtherance of the Masterplan project in the future.

“Additionally, most recently the Estate has been carrying out a stock condition survey on all its residential properties to enable the Trust to develop a ten-year planned preventative maintenance programme.

“There are very many positive acts which the Trust engage in which go untold and unsung. There is a significant investment of time and financial resources for the benefit of tourism to the island.

“In 2012 alone, Mount Stuart has secured visits from new coach tour operators who will be visiting the island for the first time, bringing thousands of new visitors to Bute this summer, resulting in much needed new business for Rothesay and Bute generally.”