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What did Moray MSP do on £12k trip to Los Angeles space summit? Richard Lochhead at The Economist's Space Economy Summit

By Lewis McBlane

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MORAY MSP Richard Lochhead has been criticised for an £12,000 trip to a Los Angeles space conference in his role as a minister.

Moray MSP and Scottish Government minister Richard Lochhead during the Space Economy Summit in Los Angeles...Picture: Facebook/Scottish Government
Moray MSP and Scottish Government minister Richard Lochhead during the Space Economy Summit in Los Angeles...Picture: Facebook/Scottish Government

Mr Lochhead, the minister for innovation, small business and trade, went to the Space Economy Conference hosted by The Economist magazine in October.

According to details published by the Scottish Government, his travel and subsistence bill cost the taxpayer £11,754.81.

First reported in The Times, Mr Lochhead was strongly criticised by Conservative politicians for the price tag of his visit.

He spent three days in Los Angeles during his visit, his ministerial diary shows, and delivered a 15-minute keynote speech promoting Scotland's potential for the space sector at the event.

Mr Lochhead was invited to provide comment on this article, but the request was passed to a Scottish Government spokesperson.

The SNP politician had three members of staff with him, which also included meetings with 13 space industry executives and companies.

And details of his schedule show he met with Scottish trade and innovation envoys and attended a reception hosted by Scottish business network GlobalScot.

Car journeys before the overseas visit show that Mr Lochhead flew to the US from Edinburgh Airport

Also reported in The Times, yesterday, was a breakdown of the nearly £12,000 outlay for Mr Lochhead's travel and subsistence.

The article claims that the Scottish Government confirmed, in response to a Freedom of Information Request, that Mr Lochhead's trip included a £2514.89 bill for "chauffered car travel".

A Scottish Government spokesperson said the car travel referred to a "multi-seat vehicle" for the minister and a "Team Scotland delegation".

She added that ministers continue with their day-to-day duties during overseas trips.

A survey from audit firm EY, the spokesperson claimed, showed that Scotland was the top performing area for inward investment projects in the UK outside London for the eighth year in a row.

In total, £7979.85 was spent on flights, £821.95 on accommodation and £438.12 on other "travel and subsistence" for Mr Lochhead.

And, including the three members of staff in tow, the total was almost £15,000 – with £11,729.25 spent on plane tickets, £2657.87 on accommodation and £452.34 for other travel and subsistence.

Along with ministerial expenses, a list of meetings for all ministers is also published each month.

The release shows that, while he was at the Space Economy Summit, Mr Lochhead had 13 meetings

He met with:

  • Andrew Parlock, the US manufacturing director for UK-headquartered space firm Space Forge.
  • Yossi Yamin, the co-founder of SpacePharma, a Swiss-Israeli firm which specialises in low-gravity experiments.
  • Venture capitalist Will Porteous, from the RRE Ventures fund.
  • Chad Anderson, the founder of $100m American venture capital fund Space Capital.
  • Max Haot, the CEO of Vast – a firm attempting to build the first commercial space station.
  • Californian astrophysicist Cristina Dalle Ore, from Bayer Crop Science and a NASA research centre.
  • Orbotic Systems, which produces satellite systems that leave less debris in space.
  • David Learmonth, director of formulations and process development at Portuguese bio-technology company InnovPlantProtect.
  • US satellite internet firm Viasat.
  • Hydrogen aircraft company Universal Hydrogen.
  • American small satellite business ABL Space Systems.
  • Glasgow company Innova Nanojet Technologies, which produces "ultrasonic and ultra-fine nano-scale droplet sprays".
  • A meeting with firm Launchpad to discuss the tech sector

Mr Lochhead also gave a 15-minute keynote speech to the summit and took part in the "Interactive VIP Lunch Roundtable".

Moray's MSP attended a dinner sponsored by venture capital fund Starburst Aerospace and a roundtable event about venture capital in the space industry.

He also had dinner with Trade and Innovation envoys to the USA, along with representatives of data science company Seaplan.IO.

Transparency documents describe the firm as a target of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

Mr Lochhead also attended a GlobalScot Reception at the UK Consul General Residence and met with Andy MacMillan, Scottish Government trade and investment envoy.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scottish Ministers have a clear role to play in realising Scotland’s ambition to become one of Europe’s leading space nations by fostering trade links and creating inward investment opportunities.

"The LA visit provided an opportunity to further tap into the enormous $546 billion US space economy, and to promote our spaceport projects.

“Over three days, the Trade Minister undertook 17 engagements with industry experts, business leaders and potential investors to discuss investment in Scotland as part of the multi-agency Team Scotland mission.

"This is an approach which has helped Scotland consistently rank as the top performing area for inward investment projects in the UK outside of London.”

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