As I See It: Terry Murden
Three months ago the businessman behind plans to revive the Scottish Stock Exchange was insisting all was well and that the project remained on schedule. He had even commissioned a Glasgow artist to design a new bell to mark the opening of trading.
Alas, it looks like the bell has already tolled for so-called Project Heather and that Tomas Carruthers, who has been touring the world promoting the project has a lot of explaining to do.
Until recent weeks Mr Carruthers was on course to launch Scotland’s first fully-independent stock exchange since 1973. He had hired a team of advisers and in the summer moved into swanky offices in Edinburgh’s George Street where he intended to house a staff of 45. Launch date depended only securing the approval of the Financial Conduct Authority.
However, the alarm was sounded when Daily Business revealed that the accounts had not been filed and that one key hire had decided not to take up a job offer.
Media reports followed that bills were mounting, and staff had left, some apparently considering legal action for unpaid wages. The final ignominy will come this week when Project Heather’s landlord Crown Estates Scotland enforces a formal eviction order.
Mr Carruthers has been selling a dream that has been built on wishful thinking. It is said that a deal with Euronext to operate the new exchange was never confirmed and that it is owed £500,000. In June Mr Carruthers admitted Euronext had threatened to quit the project, blaming Brexit uncertainty. Scottish Enterprise, which promised £750,000 to support the project will keep its money. It’s not known whether a seven figure sum from business advisers Anderson, Anderson & Brown was drawn down.
Mr Carruthers has certainly enjoyed the journey so far, allegedly burning through £2 million which is said to have included paying himself a six-figure salary and booking first-class air travel tickets to promote the venture around the world.
He has travelled to Amsterdam, London, New York and Switzerland to push the exchange, running up a £170,000 bill on travel, £117,000 on recruitment agency fees, £71,000 on marketing and £36,000 for entertaining. There was £20,000 to fit out offices in George Street, Edinburgh, where the annual rent was £200,000.
He enlisted support from leading politicians, including endorsements from Scottish Business Minister Jamie Hepburn who gave it his backing when he addressed a presentation at the Scottish parliament.
In September Mr Carruthers persuaded Sandy Adam, executive chairman of housebuilder Springfield Properties, to speak at a presentation in Fountainbridge. Mr Adam’s company floated in 2017 and he said that if the Scottish Stock Exchange had been operational “it would have been an option”.
It doesn’t look like it will be an option for any other companies any time soon. When Daily Business first got wind of problems with Project Heather in the summer we were told it was all idle speculation. We are waiting to be proved wrong.