Council bails out ski trips

23rd April 2004 at 01:00
An American dream that turned into a nightmare for school ski trips over Easter has forced East Renfrewshire to rewrite its advice on bookings.

Schools will be told that all tour operators must be bonded with the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) and that flight bookings should have an Atol (Air Travel Organisers' Licensing) badge of security.

Revised and swift guidance to schools comes after American Dreams (Scotland), a small Newton Mearns-based company, went bust immediately before the Easter break. Visits to New England by two local secondaries, Mearns Castle High and Eastwood High, were put at risk and Bo'ness Academy, which is run by Falkirk Council, was also hit.

East Renfrewshire put in pound;50,000 to guarantee that 114 pupils from Mearns Castle and 31 from Eastwood enjoyed their trips to Attitash and Stowe. Falkirk gave pound;14,500 to save the Bo'ness trip. Parents had threatened to sue the council before it paid up.

Ironically, East Renfrewshire helped American Dreams through its business start-up initiative and the authority highlighted the company last spring in its newsletter.

The article praised the expanding business of Kenny Phipps, the company boss, who said: "My objective is to make American Dreams the best possible fun for all. One of the keys to this is excellent organisation and management and first class evaluations of any resort prior to a tour taking place."

This week Mr Phipps is facing inquiries from trading standards officers in East Renfrewshire after it emerged that his assurances about the company's financial position proved to be worthless. He could face prosecution.

American Dreams was not bonded with Abta and offered protection via its own bond. It is understood that it used a borrowed Atol number to cover flights.

A spokesman for East Renfrewshire said: "This has been a salutary lesson.

Our strong advice to every school is to see the small print of every part of the contract and read it thoroughly. They should refer any doubts to local trading standards officers."

The authority says the schools involved followed the advice set out in standard circular 48 and the bookings were made 18 months ago. The cost for the two schools was pound;114,229, of which pound;64,229 was for air fares. Dixon Travel in Glasgow eventually provided the flights after East Renfrewshire lent its support.

American Dreams (Scotland) Ltd was wound up at Paisley sheriff court on March 29 and is now in the liquidator's hands.

Leader 22

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