National Trust for Scotland to invest £100m in properties and landscapes amid financial bounce back
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The islands of Staff and Canna will be among the first sites to be upgraded to drive visitor numbers, with other major projects including the development of a new visitor centre at Corrieshalloch Gorge in Ross-shire.
Property upgrades will be partly funded by a projected increase in visitor numbers to six million a year by 2023, up from around two million in 2021. A goal to get almost 200,000 new members has also been set, with a target to reach a membership base of 500,000 in the next decade.
The plan follows a tumultuous two years for the trust, with the future of the charity earlier “feared to be at stake” given the impact of the pandemic. There were claims the health crisis would wipe £30m off the trust’s income in 2020 given lockdown restrictions.
That year the trust controversially made 188 compulsory redundancies with emergency Scottish Government funds helping to stem the losses, with more than 400 staff originally told their jobs were at risk.
Last night, Philip Long, chief executive of NTS, said the trust had ended the year “better than expected”, not least given an unexpected £4.4m increase in the value of the trust’s investment book.
Mr Long said: “We have set out in our strategy our intention to increase our membership and visitor numbers and these will contribute to our financial position.
"It’s fair to say that as the scale of the pandemic became clear in 2020, we feared the worst and believed the trust’s future as a going concern was at stake.
“A number of actions were taken by the trust to address this position and ensure its survival. A combination of receiving generous support from our loyal members, from donors, and from the Scottish and UK governments, combined with the closure of our properties and a very severe, but essential cost-cutting exercise, all helped.
"The biggest driver of our surplus were our investments. The book value of our investments went up by £4m, when we had expected it to go down by £4m. Altogether, this meant that we ended the year better than we expected, with a surplus of £4.4m.
“We are now in a much stronger and stable position, and this has enabled us to make the plans we’re sharing in our strategy, but we are still in a period of recovery and that’s the first phase of our strategy – recovery and planning.”
Mr Long said the strategy was in part a response to both the pandemic and climate change, with the value of greenspace, beauty and nature proven to be “vitally important” during recent times and the climate and biodiversity crisis presenting the “biggest challenge” to the trust and the places it looks after. The organisation will aim to become carbon negative by 2031.
Research among members and visitors calculated the benefit of wellbeing experienced at NTS sites, which is said to amount to an additional £73m of annual social value.
The trust, which relies on the contribution of around 3,500 volunteers, is recruiting for around 300 seasonal and permanent jobs.