Publisher of Nicola Sturgeon’s speeches at centre of £295k taxpayer cash complaint

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Scotland's First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Nicola Sturgeon, visits The Edinburgh Book Shop - Reuters
Scotland's First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Nicola Sturgeon, visits The Edinburgh Book Shop - Reuters

A pro-independence book publisher which released a collection of Nicola Sturgeon’s speeches is being assessed by police over the award of £295,000 of taxpayers' cash.

Sandstone Press, which is run by an SNP supporter and hailed the First Minister as a “significant world leader” when it released a collection of her speeches earlier this year, has been accused by a rival firm of falsifying documents.

Keith Charters, managing director of Strident Publishing, complained to police and said he had since been interviewed by detectives about his allegations.

“We are content that the police are pursuing this matter vigorously,” he said. “I have given a couple of statements on their request and provided other items of evidence.”

Sandstone, which released the book of Ms Sturgeon’s speeches days after the Holyrood election in May and promoted it in the run-up to the vote, denies any wrongdoing.

‘Thoughtful, progressive, compassionate’

It has received more than £400,000 in grants from Creative Scotland, the SNP Government’s arts quango, over the past 15 years.

Mr Charters’ complaints relate to £120,000 of grants given last year and £175,000 of loans both provided by another public agency, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

He claims that the publisher made false statements about the number of people it employs in an effort to increase the likelihood that it would be approved for funding.

HIE is also alleged to have wrongly recorded the location of the firm, in a deliberate effort to boost its eligibility for financial support.

The publisher has insisted there is no link between the public funding it has received and its decision to release a tribute book to Ms Sturgeon, called Women Hold Up Half the Sky.

In promotional materials, it described Ms Sturgeon as “thoughtful, progressive, [and] compassionate” and “as pragmatic on matters of economic strategy as she is progressive on social issues”.

The book was edited by Robert Davidson, the managing director of Sandstone Press, an independence supporter who has been to Ms Sturgeon’s official Bute House residence and posted gushing eulogies to her on social media.

The publisher has said that no public money was used to finance the project.

Mr Charters has also launched a judicial review of how the funding given to Sandstone by HIE was allocated.

“There are serious questions for the SNP Government to answer,” Donald Cameron, culture spokesman for the Scottish Tories, said.

“The SNP Government was made aware of concerns surrounding this significant amount of public money just before the election period kicked off.

“They must be fully transparent over what checks were carried out at that time and why they believed it was still appropriate for public money to be given to the company who then published the book of Nicola Sturgeon's speeches.”

‘Information has been passed to police’

A spokesman for HIE said it had not been contacted by police about any matter related to Sandstone. “An application to commence judicial review proceedings has been made to the Court of Session and HIE intends to defend this robustly,” he added.

A spokeswoman for Sandstone Press also said it had not been contacted by police. “We’ve been disappointed to see misleading information about Sandstone Press and Women Hold Up Half the Sky in the press and online,” she added.

“Women Hold Up Half The Sky is published and financed independently of any public body. Sandstone Press has received no funding for this book.

“Similar to many Scottish businesses, Sandstone Press has received support from HIE. This is in relation to business resilience and not any project or publication.”

A spokesman for Police Scotland said: “Information has been passed to police which is currently being assessed."

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “Given there is a police complaint, it wouldn’t be appropriate for the Scottish Government to comment.”

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