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Malcolm Offord was joined by International Trade Secretary Liz Truss in India
SCOTLAND Office minister Malcolm Offord has been branded an “expensive waste of space” after the full details of his flashy trade trip to India were revealed.
The failed Tory Holyrood election candidate and party donor, who took his seat in the House of Lords on October 14, was flown to Mumbai just a week later to take part in a trip which aimed to “challenge traditional perspectives of the UK” in India.
The main point of the trip, according to a press release from the Scotland Office – where Offord is parliamentary under secretary to Scottish Secretary Alister Jack – was to reduce import tariffs on Scotch whisky in India. Although excise duty on imported whisky to Maharashtra was cut by 50%, the second most populated state in the country, the SNP said Offord failed to get a “meaningful result” from the trip.
The full details of Offord’s four day trip were revealed after The National lodged a Freedom of Information (FOI) request with the Scotland Office asking for briefing notes, associated costs and any related reports for the trip between October 21 and 25.
READ MORE: Tory donor Malcolm Offord ‘honoured to be selected, if not elected’ to House of Lords
In a 34-page briefing document prepared for Offord, the introduction states he was in Mumbai to support the visit of the Royal Navy’s Carrier Strike Group to India.
Offord’s schedule included attending joint-performances of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and Hormuzd Khambata Dance Company and hosting a tour of the HMS Queen Elizabeth for “senior Indian business, government and military guests”.
He also attended an evening reception on-board HMS Defender with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, the British High Commissioner, UK Trade Commissioner and assembled “senior business, political, military and diplomatic corps guests”.
In the pre-event briefing notes for Offord, it suggests a “personal anecdote re Scotch” and to tell attendees the event has shown a “new side of UK culture, food and drink in India”.
Bizarrely, on three occasions whisky is misspelled as “whiskey” three times in the lengthy briefing notes.
The Scotland Office said it did not hold copies of meeting notes and other materials consumed during Offord’s trip, but included a diplomatic telegram from Deputy High Commissioner Alan Gemmell. In the report, Gemmell says Offord “supported events” which promoted Scotch whisky.
It said: “His support raised the debate around whisky tariffs that – if reduced – have the potential to increase exports to India by up to £1.2bn over five years. The Scotland Office will support with further engagement that ensures the Scotch Whisky Association and other stakeholders’ views are fed into FTA considerations.”
An SNP spokesperson said: “Malcolm Offord is an unelected Lord who has no place representing Scotland or Scottish businesses in an official capacity. He was parachuted into the Scotland Office because the Scottish Tory MPs were deemed too useless to do the job, but the signal failure of Offord’s mission to India to deliver any meaningful result strongly suggests he too is an expensive waste of space.”
READ MORE: Malcolm Offord’s peerage should be withdrawn, Mhairi Black demands
The Scotland Office said it only contributed £7588.25 towards the trip for Offord and three officials, whose names were redacted. Of that amount, £2997 was spent on four flights, £4097.61 spent on hotels and subsistence, £399 on Covid testing and £94.74 on travel and insurance.
The response said: “Details of payments for the hire of event spaces, amounts paid to artists and staff, food and hospitality for guests at the events and other relevant costs were funded through private sponsorship or other government departments and are not held by the Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland.”
The National approached both the Foreign Office and Department of International Trade to ask if they had contributed to the trip and if they would reveal how much. Neither responded to our request by time of publication.
A spokesperson for the Scotland Office said: “Working closely with Scottish business stakeholders and cultural institutions, minister Malcolm Offord met with leading political and business representatives from a wide range of sectors in Mumbai to foster closer trade ties.”
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