Former boss of Scotland’s biggest wave-power flop scoops new £1m Scot-Govt grant – to set up a whisky distillery

Martin McAdam, formerly chief executive of Aquamarine Wave Power.
A relaxed and smiling Martin McAdam, former chief executive of Aquamarine Wave Power.

Opposition MSPs in Holyrood have questioned the wisdom of handing over nearly £1 million in public subsidies to the man in charge of Aquamarine Power – the putative-wave-power energy provider which sank with the lost of £15 million of taxpayers’ cash.

Martin McAdam, 57, was chief executive of Edinburgh-based Aquamarine Power until a year before it went bust, having swallowed up huge payments from Scot-Govt business quango Scottish Enterprise – and which represented the biggest single-loss in the public quango’s history.

Despite the company being a spectacular flop, he pocketed about £1 million in wages between 2009 and 2014.

Now the entrepreneur – who describes himself as a “risk taker” – has got another government boost in the form of a £982,000 grant to open a distillery in Inverclyde.

Opposition politicians have reacted angrily to the handout and called for the decision to be reviewed.

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie, the party’s economic affairs spokesman in Holyrood, said last night: “This is a deeply troubling revelation that raises serious questions yet again about the <Scottish> Government’s judgment.

“It’s clear businesses across the country need support but taxpayers’ money simply cannot be given away without proper checks and balances.

“There should be a review of this grant to ensure it is the most appropriate use of funds.”

And Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Mike Rumbles said: “A million pounds is a considerable pot of public funding.

“For the Scottish Government to give this out as a float to Mr McAdam’s new venture, they ought to have sought cast-iron guarantees it won’t go the same way as the last one.”

Aquamarine Power sank into Administration in 2015 after failing to develop commercially viable wave energy with two huge converters in the sea off Orkney. The company left debts of more than £11 million, with the biggest creditor being the Scot-Govt which is owed £6.2 million.

Accounts filed with Companies House show that, despite the company’s woes, McAdam consistently drew a large six-figure salary. Analysis of the documents suggest he earned about £1.2 million over six years – taking home almost £300,000 in 2011 alone.

The Irish entrepreneur –  who lives in an up-market £500,000 flat in Edinburgh’s New Town, claimed to have personally lost £250,000 in Aquamarine Power.

After resigning as a director from Aquamarine, McAdam set up the Ardgowan Distillery Company, registering as a director in July 2016.

A new manufacturing plant and visitors’ centre is planned for a former sawmill near Inverkip in Inverclyde and the Scottish Government have agreed to pump public money into the building plans.

McAdam said later: “In a world where we thought energy prices would continue to rise, development of new technologies such as wave power would have brought great benefits to Scotland and Scottish manufacturing.

“What sustained the company was not just government grants but the venture capital and private equity and individual investors such as myself. We need to encourage people to create businesses and sometimes government grants are part and parcel of achieving that.”

Paul Wheelhouse, MSP
Paul Wheelhouse, MSP

Scottish Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse could not be contacted for comment last night.

31 Jul 2018

Pixie Energy

Pixie logo Pixie Energy is an incubator and a facilitator of strategic research and project work, focusing on energy regulation, policy and markets at the local and national level. Find out more about Pixie Energy here.

Local Energy Matters: Scotland

Local Energy Matters: Scotland is a free-to-download brochure with a focus on energy tariffs in the two Scottish electricity distribution regions, as well news on local energy and low-carbon schemes.

Previous editions can be download here.

Scottish energy market overview

You can read an overview of the Scottish energy market here.

Scottish Government energy feed