Leading Scottish businessman Charles Ritchie is fuming over “incredible” rules which rule out his business benefiting from a grant to support job-creating expansion plans.
Mr Ritchie, founder, majority shareholder and chairman of Peterhead-based Score Group, said his company’s unsuccessful bid for a Scottish Enterprise (SE) Regional Selective Assistance (RSA) grant ticked all the boxes but one – the firm’s location made it ineligible.
Swathes of the north-east, including Buchan, do not currently fall within the “assisted areas” eligible for RSA support under European Union state aid rules.
This is despite the ravages of many years of fishing industry decline and the recent North Sea downturn.
RSA grants are used elsewhere to support projects involving investment and the creation or safeguarding of jobs.
Mr Ritchie said: “Irrespective of the merits of a case which everybody agrees with that knows anything about it, we don’t qualify for grant assistance.
“All we are asking for its to be fairly treated … but we are being told there’s no chance – that we are in the wrong place. The area is too affluent.
“Have you ever heard so much rubbish? Do these people ever go to Peterhead or go to Fraserburgh? Have they actually seen how conditions are in our area? It is incredible.”
Score, which Mr Ritchie launched in 1982, is an international group of engineering businesses primarily focused on valve and industrial gas turbine services for the oil and gas, nuclear and marine industries.
It employs more than 1,700 people globally, including about 800 in Peterhead.
Mr Ritchie, 69, has a £100million-plus, five-stage investment plan for the group’s Blue Toon operations which he said could create 250 jobs over the next 10 years.
It was for the first stage of this, a £5million-plus upgrade to manufacturing facilities in a move expected to deliver about 30 new jobs, that Score sought an RSA grant of “perhaps a seven-figure sum”.
Mr Ritchie accused the Scottish Government and economic development quango (SE) of making up the eligibility rules “on a whim”.
“These assisted area boundaries are flexible and open to interpretation by the Scottish Government,” he added.
Just two years ago, Ellon-based beer-maker BrewDog received a £1.5million RSA grant to help with its expansion.
A spokeswoman for SE said: “We have no power to change the rules. Our advice to firms is to get them to use our online postcode checker to see if they are eligible”.
Score recently reported a 45% surge in pre-tax profits to £1.5million during the year to September 29, 2016, but turnover fell by 2% to £170.9million.
The company has already started work on expanding its manufacturing operations in Peterhead but Mr Richie warned the upgrade would take longer without government support.
Carolyn Maniukiewicz, chairman of the Peterhead Energy Hub partnership, said: “We welcome any support that the public sector can provide local businesses to encourage investment and growth and to assist them to compete in a global marketplace.
“RSA support would benefit this area and an expansion of the scheme should be considered to include Aberdeenshire.”