Outgoing Chamber boss says crisis took shine off 6-year spell

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The outgoing boss of the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce today accepted his share of the blame for a £1 million-plus loss.

Ron Hewitt, who is due to stand down at the end of this year after more than six years as chief executive of the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, admitted that the cash crisis had “taken the shine off” a successful spell.

Speaking to the Evening News as he prepared to unveil details of the loss to members, Mr Hewitt broke his silence about the “mess” at Edinburgh Business Development (EBD).

The subsidiary, which helps businesses to grow and offers training to get people back into work, had to be rescued from the brink of collapse by a £700,000 bailout from the Chamber.

The problems arose because financial reports failed to show that a series of contracts for local, national and international public bodies would run up “substantial” losses.

Mr Hewitt said that the crisis – which resulted in the Chamber having to make 12 of its 50 staff redundant – had “saddened” the final months of his time at the helm of the 225-year-old business group.

“It has taken the shine off it for me,” said Mr Hewitt. “We assembled a great team here, we were the first Chamber in Scotland to be UK Chamber of the Year and we are now the largest by far and the most influential in Scotland.

“It has been steady growth and the greatest pleasure for me is that we are recognised as a campaigning Chamber.

“Coming to a stage where we had to let people go, it has been difficult and I did not expect to have to make these difficult decisions. Some of them were incredibly loyal members of staff, but we just couldn’t afford to keep them on.

“I’m 60 and I’ve been on board for 25 years and I have never experienced this issue of struggling day-to-day, but a lot of our members have had to deal with that type of cash crisis.

“Seeing good people go through no fault of their own is very difficult and I’m very sad about that.”

When asked if he accepted his share of the blame for not spotting the problems at EBD sooner, he said: “Yes, without doubt. I am saddened that it happened on my watch.

“I am satisfied that it was not possible for me for me to investigate this before I did – I’m certain of that – but it was not a transparent business because of the way financial information was coming forward.”

He said he only became aware of the cash crisis in March during a holiday in Spain, three weeks before the end of the financial year.

The Chamber was due to hold its much-delayed AGM at the City Chambers today.

Jeremy Chittleburgh, its treasurer, was expected to insist that, despite the “concerning” position, the Chamber was now “in a position to move forward”.