STAFF at Scotland’s tourism quango have been condemned for taking a £1000 “jolly” to see the pandas at Edinburgh Zoo – on the same day 800 workers were told they would lose their jobs at Grangemouth.
VisitScotland organised a “planning” day at the tourist attraction on Wednesday this week which included food and a guided tour.
The £25-a-head away day was for around 40 marketing staff from the organisation’s Edinburgh HQ just five miles away from the zoo.
The Scottish Tories complained it was “hard to see to see the value to taxpayers” in the visit.
The outing included a trip to see Giant Panda Tian Tian who recently hit headlines after losing her cub.
An insider said staff had been eagerly anticipating an easy day out.
“They had a really good day, that they’d been looking forward to.
“They got to go in and see Tian Tian in groups, and got a talk before it too. They got a tour of the rest of the zoo too, and saw the penguins and other animals.
“There was a room in Mansion House booked out for during the day, and a buffet for lunch.
“They clocked off around four and headed straight for drinks from there.”
Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: “Aside from providing business for one of Scotland’s main tourist attractions, it’s hard to see the value for the taxpayer in this jolly.”
“Given the organisation’s fondness for independence, perhaps they thought the pandas needed persuading on the case to break up Britain.”
Mr Lamont was referring to a controversy earlier this year when VisitScotland were accused of bias towards SNP and the Yes campaign.
The quango produced a timeline of significant events in history which highlighted the election of SNP’s first MP rather than Britain’s contribution to the defeat of the Nazis in 1945.
VisitScotland confirmed that they spent £1000 for 40 members of their marketing team to visit the zoo.
A spokesman said: “This is entirely normal practice throughout the business world with all companies and public bodies taking time to develop plans.
“This is why the meetings and incentives industry is worth £1.9bn to Scotland.
“This planning day was an integral part of making sure VisitScotland is ready and prepared for 2014 when we will welcome the world to these shores through the Ryder Cup, Commonwealth Games and Homecoming Scotland 2014.
“As part of the day the zoo invited us to view their key attractions so our team was updated on new developments. In line with VisitScotland policy no alcohol was provided for staff.”
VisitScotland has been frequently criticised for wasting money.
In 2010 the former VisitScotland boss, Phillip Riddle, was given a £240,000 pay-off after leaving his £161,000-a-year-post.
At the time the company said that they had to make savings of over £1m in the next four years, and were paying off four out of six directors.
Last year VisitScotland was criticised after it had to pull down its website.
The plug was pulled on visitscotland.com after it amassed a loss of £18m over the ten years it ran.
The site had to be bought back by taxpayers in 2012 costing £1.5m, with over £6m in debt attached.
Also last year, VisitScotland mixed up two historic Scottish villages on a map given away to a thousand visitors.
The map of Scotland was given away to newspaper readers in the UK and Ireland in a bid to boost “staycation” tourism.
Two Fife towns, St Monans and Pittenweem were placed over two miles from where they should have been.
The maps had to be reprinted at a cost of £72,000.