THE Scottish Parliament building is to be rented out for receptions and dinners, bringing in thousands of pounds a year.
Holyrood bosses have approved plans to market key parts of the £414 million building as a venue for hire.
But the move has prompted warnings that the parliament must abide by its founding principle of being accessible to all and should not just be made available to those who can pay the most.
The plush MSPs’ dining room has already been rented out for commercial events during a six-month pilot scheme, which brought in £22,000.
But it could only take events for 120 guests. Now the cross-party Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB), which oversees the building, has agreed a further 18-month pilot of the dining room and also to market the parliament’s entrance hall as a commercial events venue. It will be able to accommodate receptions for up to 450 and dinners for 280, producing revenue estimated at up to £40,000.
The pilot only allowed the dining room to be rented out on days when parliament was not in session – and that will continue, but a report to the SPCB points out more money could be generated if that restriction was lifted. The report also said the dining room had not been “fully marketed” up until now, but said it should now be actively promoted.
But politicians entered a note of caution on the moves.
Jim Eadie, SNP MSP for Edinburgh Southern, said: “If you were a cynic you might say that anything they can do to offset the high maintenance costs is probably quite sensible.
“I don’t object in principle to this, provided MSPs continue to have priority in terms of sponsoring events in the building on behalf of constituents or community organisations.
“However, there would be a concern if the parliament building was to be turned into an events venue available to the highest bidder. That would not be appropriate.
“They have got to be careful. This is the national parliament of Scotland.
“One of the strengths of the parliament is its openness and accessibility to all of Scotland – and that means members of the public as well as organisations which want to use the facilities.
“Accessibility is a founding principle of the parliament – and that’s not accessibility on how much money you have, it’s accessibility period.
“That principle has to be front and centre of anything the parliament is doing.”
And Lothian Green MSP Alison Johnstone said it was important to strike a balance.
She said: “Clearly if it gives us the opportunity to welcome more people to the building that’s a good thing but we need to make sure we never arrive at a situation that only those who can afford to hire that space have access to it.”
She suggested some of the income from the lets could be channelled into funding events at the parliament for community groups who would never have enough money to pay for it themselves.
A parliament spokesman said: “The SPCB is actively looking at ways to reduce subsidy levels within the parliament by increasing income. This initiative will allow certain commercial events to take place in the members’ room and main hall when the building is not otherwise being used.”