EMPLOYEES at an iconic Highlands hotel have become stakeholders after 46 years of business.

The Priory Hotel, in Beauly, gave its 46 staff a stake in the business, becoming the latest in a line of around 100 establishments becoming employee-owned.

Founded by Stuart Hutton in 1972, the hotel has become a local institution, growing from 12 bedrooms to 39 bedrooms and offering a range of services that are often frequented by customers.

But his son, Kenneth, says his dad is starting to think about his retirement and what the hotel means for the future: “My dad was at the stage where he was considering a step back from the business.

“A staff member had once mentioned employee ownership – it meant the business would be sold to those who know it best, and it wouldn’t be taken over by a large chain.

“The option stuck with my dad and when he felt like he had the correct management team in place, the time was right to begin progressing the buyout.”

An Employee Ownership Trust has been formed which will hold 72% of the shares on behalf of the employees.

The transition to employee ownership was supported by Co-operative Development Scotland (CDS) and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) with the process managed by Ownership Associates

Stuart said: “The support we received from Ownership Associates throughout the transition to EO was invaluable. We were fully informed on how the model works and what it would mean for the business and we were given great advice on how best to structure the company.”

But Kenneth is keen to remember the hotel’s family roots – he will retain the bulk of the remaining shareholding, to demonstrate that the family remains committed to the continuation of the hotel.

He added: “The Priory Hotel is a huge part of the local community and a takeover by a large chain could have put jobs and company values at risk.

“By selling to his employees, my dad knows that the business he spent 46 years building is now in the hands of a loyal and invested team that wants the best for the hotel and the local area.”