BOSSES at the National Trust for Scotland have been told they will not receive extra public funding while hundreds of staff are threatened with redundancy. 

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop criticised the conservation body for its "harsh" approach to tackling the coronavirus crisis. 

The NTS previously warned its future is in doubt as it placed 429 staff in its permanent workforce at risk of redundancy.

It said it would approach grant-giving bodies and the Scottish Government for financial support and seek to sell non-heritage land and property.

But Ms Hyslop said she was "not impressed" with how the charity has handled the pandemic.

She told Holyrood's Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee no other body has taken such harsh measures.

She said Historic Environment Scotland, for example, is expected to lose £21 million in income.

She said: "This is very serious indeed. The National Trust for Scotland is an important institution in Scotland; it is also an independent charity, so they make their own decisions and they obviously have taken a very harsh approach to tackling this issue. 

"They have already issued, or are planning to issue notice of redundancies to not just some staff, but 400."

She said she recognised the body had "particular challenges" and had met virtually with its chair and chief executive on Friday.

Ms Hyslop said: "It was helpful to find out more information about what they were trying to do. 

"But their proposed closures would be very, very significant indeed. 

"Now, everybody's facing hardship in these difficult times, I understand that. 

"But we also expect national institutions to provide leadership, and across the tourism sector people are having to take tough decisions. 

"We know that we're going to be in difficult times, but nobody has done what the NTS has done. 

"Everybody has tried to at least keep their workforce in employment, to use the very welcome job retention scheme. 

"And what is really concerning is that the NTS moved on the redundancy issue even though it was quite clear, though it hadn't quite been announced, that the UK was extending the period for the job retention scheme. 

"I understand they are also thinking...about next year, not just this year, and I'm not pretending there are not problems. 

"I know for example Historic Environment Scotland are likely to lose £21m of income. Their income has dropped dramatically."

She said the NTS is asking for a "significant amount of funding from the Scottish Government". 

She added: "I've made clear to them that I don't think it is at all tenable for the Scottish Government to provide funding to them at a time that they are trying and would want to continue to make their staff redundant to the scale that they're talking about. 

"So I will try and work with them, I will try and come up with a solution, but I have not been impressed about how they have gone about this, and I've made that quite clear to them."

Ms Hyslop added: "I just don't think the NTS have thought about trying to take people with them. 

"I think they're trying to be quite hard-nosed about what they're doing, and I would appeal to them, as I have done when I met them, that they need to work collaboratively and cooperatively and work with their staff, actually talk to their staff."

She said the organisation's duty and responsibility "is not just to the bottom line of the accounts; it's to our heritage, it's to our people, whether they are visitors or whether they are staff".

Ms Hyslop was asked about the issue by Conservative MSP Oliver Mundell, who welcomed her comments.

The NTS, which cares for sites as diverse as Culloden and Culzean Castle, previously said its income from all sources is forecast to collapse by £28m this year and to fall again in 2021 even if current restrictions are relaxed, while this does not include estimated investment losses of £46m due to stock market conditions.

A spokeswoman said some of Ms Hyslop's remarks were unfair.

She said: “These are steps we never wanted to take, reacting to a situation that is not of our making.

"We initially approached the Scottish Government on 22 April outlining our intentions with a request to meet and discuss a potential and limited amount of support towards ensuring we remained a going concern.

"It was 15 May before we were given an opportunity to meet with the Cabinet Secretary and we look forward to continuing to work with the Scottish Government to help contribute to a solution to our challenges.

“In the meantime, as an independent charity, we have had to urgently apply the only options that are open to us in the face of property closures and loss of income, including reductions in spending, cancelling or postponing projects, seeking donations and, regrettably, proposing redundancies. 

"This unwanted choice is not just about addressing the immediate crisis but ensuring the Trust is on a viable scale and footing to survive the pandemic’s economic legacy that may mean a loss of 30 per cent of our income next year. 

"This is not so much being ‘hard-nosed’ as having to deal with an unprecedented situation that puts our survival and many more jobs dependent on our future in the balance.

“We know how difficult it is for all of our people and the people who love our places.

"If we are to continue fulfilling our responsibility to protect Scotland’s heritage, unfortunately, we do need to think about the bottom line - it is not an either/or option. 

"Unlike Historic Environment Scotland, we do not enjoy the cushion of substantial public funds and instead have to rely on our own reserves, which are likely to be wiped out as a result of the pandemic unless we take action.

“The situation is fast-changing and we hope there is scope, throughout the consultation process, to minimise redundancies and closures, if at all possible.”