HOLYROOD politicians are to spend £75,000 of taxpayers’ money on a new bar at the Scottish Parliament – to replace one which hardly anyone uses.
The current MSPs’ restaurant and bar – which receives a massive subsidy from the public purse – will close in the evenings and the space will be used instead for MSP-sponsored receptions for outside organisations.
The move was agreed after the cross-party Scottish Parliament Corporate Body was told the evening opening was costing £50,000 a year and the restaurant was operating at just seven per cent capacity after 5pm.
But the corporate body has approved plans to convert two offices elsewhere in the building into another non-subsidised bar, where drinks and light meals will be on offer in the evenings.
The SPCB will pay £75,000 towards setting up the “Queensberry House lounge” and catering contractor Sodexo will contribute an additional £50,000 to the cost of the move.
The parliament claimed the investment would be recouped within two years and it should then pay for itself, but Tory MSP Alex Johnstone, a former member of the corporate body, said he was “speechless”.
He said: “It will take quite a few drinks to earn back £75,000. I hope they can make it add up.”
Lothians Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale said in a time of austerity, politicians should forego a new bar at Holyrood and support local pubs instead.
There are several pubs within a stone’s throw of the parliament, including Kilderkin, formerly Jenny Ha’s; Hemma, formerly The Tun; Canon’s Gait; and Holyrood 9A.
She said: “It’s sad they have not been able to make the bar run at a profit because it’s quite an important aspect in trying to get MSPs to work together. But I don’t think it’s something the public should be subsidising.
“The idea of building a new bar in a different part of the building does not fill me with confidence they are going to make it work any better.
“Maybe in light of the difficult economic climate we should just call it a day and recognise there are lots of local bars near the parliament that could do with the business.”
The parliament said there was a lot of demand for MSP-sponsored events and being able to use the restaurant and bar as well as the garden lobby would generate extra income.
The restaurant and bar would continue to operate during the day and on two evenings per month the existing restaurant would open for evening dinner service.
The exact tariff for the new bar has yet to be finalised, but it is expected drink and meals will both be at market rates.
A spokesman said feedback from party groups and other building users suggested there was demand for such a service.
He said: “This is part of an overall strategy to eliminate over time any subsidy for the evening catering service.”
• Trouble on the menu
THE Holyrood restaurant has been a source of controversy since the building opened in 2004.
Parliament bosses had originally set aside £60,000 a year to subsidise it, but after just two months they had to increase the amount because politicians were not using it enough.
The following year, £25,000 was spent on red leather armchairs, matching sofas and new lighting in a bid to attract more custom to the adjoining bar area.
Holyrood bosses then lifted the MSP-only policy, allowing anyone working in the building to use the restaurant. But business remained slow, despite a heavily subsidised menu offering main courses for less than a fiver.
The Evening News previously told how members could enjoy a starter of potato gnocchi with wild rocket, garlic and olive tapenade for just £1.70. A main course featuring fennel and avocado tart tatin with greens and pickled walnut relish, came in at just £4.40.
If you still had room, a dessert of Scottish berry pudding with clotted cream cost £1.85.
In 2010, it emerged meals in the first-floor Holyrood eatery were subsidised by the taxpayer to the tune of £82,465 in a single year.