Hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ cash has been used to prop up an ailing tourist attraction, according to council figures.
Cornwall Council has spent around £1.3 million on the Eden Project over three-and-a-half-years, but some of the payments have been left off the local authority’s “transparency report” which identifies public spending.
The attraction is one of the UK’s most popular but dozens of its staff have been made redundant, with falling attendances and financial losses in recent years.
The council said it paid out £345,000 in direct funding, as well as contributing £815,108 via “third parties” and a further £194,833 for “everyday business”.
“Following investigation it would seem that three payments (totalling £205,000) were incorrectly posted in the accounts which led to them not being picked up in the report that populates the transparency report,” the council said in a statement.
“During this period the council was moving to a new financial management system, which may have caused this error for which we apologise. However, although the three payments were not included in the transparency report, they would have been open to public inspection during the statutory 20-day period after the close of each year’s accounts.”
The figures were obtained by the Press Association under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act.
According to an Eden Project spokesman, the attraction has generated more than £1 billion for the wider Cornish economy and has been credited with creating 2,000 jobs elsewhere.
“It is correct that, since 2009, Eden has received £345,000 of grants directly from Cornwall Council to support the creation of new projects. We are grateful for this investment at a crucial time in our development but would like to make it clear that it would be fundamentally wrong to suggest that Eden is dependent on local authority funding.
“Since the project became active it has consistently generated more than 85% of its annual turnover from trading.
“The remaining funds come from a mixture of sources including charitable trusts, individual donations, government and lottery grants. This is a funding mix that is found in many charitable trusts in the UK.”
Cornwall Council has made six grant payments to the Eden Project, or its trust, since it became a unitary council in April 2009. These include £175,000 to the HOW2 project in March last year, described as “an ambitious skills development, training and demonstration centre designed to support the growth of business and jobs to meet the emerging needs of the 21st century”.
Of the nearly £200,000 spent on “everyday business”, the council insisted that “a number of these payments are likely to be transactions for which the council was reimbursed or received a contribution for”.
But it said it could not elaborate further without exceeding FoI restrictions.
The Eden Project was opened with much fanfare in March 2001, as one of the landmark projects to commemorate the new millennium.
Built in a former clay quarry in the Cornish countryside, the educational venue welcomed its one millionth visitor within a few months.
More recently, visitors have included the Prince of Wales, while the Olympic Torch also stopped at the attraction as part of its tour of the UK last year.
The venue, famed for its hexagonal-panelled “biomes”, has also attracted a succession of high-profile environmental guest speakers, as well as hosting concerts by the likes of Oasis, Mumford & Sons, Jessie J and Basement Jaxx.
Eden has around 400 staff, with around 60 workers losing their job this year.