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CEOs spring surprise resignations + MSPs in second jobs row

Terry smiling headTwo high profile resignations in one week have taken the business community by surprise. Benny Higgins and Lena Wilson, CEOs respectively of Tesco Bank and Scottish Enterprise announced they would be stepping down. Neither departure had been trailed and neither announcement came with much detail.

Curiously,  56-year-old Mr Higgins, who is retiring, was being lined up to undertake a series of interviews with the media to mark 20 years since Tesco Bank was launched (as Tesco Personal Finance). No mention in the briefings that he was about to hand in his notice.

A couple of years ago he was in the frame to succeed Stephen Hester at Royal Bank of Scotland, so at that time he seemed to have still harboured ambitions to take on at least one more more big role.

Some reports of his resignation from Tesco Bank mentioned the cyber attack on the bank eight months ago, but Mr Higgins said this had nothing to do with his decision to leave. It’s stated that he will leave Tesco in February to “pursue other projects”, so full retirement is not on the agenda. He was recently installed as chairman of the National Galleries of Scotland, but he says he has not decided what else will occupy his time.

He’s had an interesting career, occupying key roles at Standard Life, RBS and HBOS where as head of retail banking he was initially criticised for a fall in its mortgage market share. As events unfolded in the financial crash he was shown to have taken the right course.

He also courted controversy, not least over his £18,000 claim for taxi bills over 18 months. As one of Scotland’s more colourful business leaders it will be a shame if he steps out of the mainstream altogether.

Ms Wilson’s departure also came out of the blue, coming three months after she joined the First Minister and a delegation of Scots businesswomen in the US bullishly promoting Scotland and Scottish Enterprise to investors. There were no indications that she was not going to be around to see any such commitments come to fruition.

Aside from the spat over Ms Wilson’s £60,000 a year non-executive role at a stock market listed company, her tenure has seen Scottish Enterprise take a much lower profile. It has certainly avoided the sort of negativity that followed it for years. Her predecessor Jack Perry faced an almost daily political battle to restructure the agency. Ms Wilson, by contrast, has been left alone.

Inevitably some ask what she has achieved and her supporters will point to a string of inward investments that have kept Scotland in the top rank for overseas investors. Critics still question whether it needs a £210,000 a year CEO to do the job. That makes her one of the UK’s highest paid public servants with a salary higher than a Westminster cabinet minister.

It’s likely that she may want to step out of her executive duties and add to her roster of external appointments in business, arts, sports and voluntary organisations. Ms Wilson, 53, is currently a non-executive director of Intertek Group, ambassador for the Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice and Edinburgh Military Tattoo, a member of the Financial Services Advisory Board and chairman of Scotland’s Energy Jobs Taskforce.

She has worked in 60 countries promoting Scottish business interests or advising governments on foreign direct investment and private sector development. She spent some time working at the World Bank in Washington.

Attention will quickly turn to finding replacements for Ms Wilson and Mr Higgins but with few names emerging it could be some time before we have a clear idea who will be at the helm of two of Scotland’s biggest institutions.

What’s wrong with MSPs having second jobs?

One of our Sunday papers is in full indignation mode over Scotland’s parliamentarians earning a bob or two outside the chamber. Or to be more precise, it’s those wretched Tories up to no good again, this time by daring to have other work interests.

“Ten of Ruth Davidson’s MSPs in spotlight as crackdown planned on outside earnings at Holyrood,” booms the Sunday Herald.

Good grief. What a lot of nonsense. The attempt to stop politicians from having other interests has been a regular clarion call of the left, but those trying to stop this practice really have to get a grip.

Why shouldn’t an MSP, MP or any other member of an elected body have other earnings? As long as it does not interfere with parliamentary business, is publicly declared, and there is no evidence of undue influence on their parliamentary activities, then there is no reason for them not to partake in other work.

Some proponents of this proposed ban claim MSPs should be fully committed to the job they were elected to perform. Why? Many people have portfolio careers these days. Surely having other interests would keep them in touch with the very world they are representing. It adds to their direct experiences and knowledge and that’s what I want from my elected member.

Why should an MSP not enjoy a few hours paid work on the board of a company or other organisation in the same way that a director can sit on other boards without it weakening their principal role?

How would a ban apply to those MSPs who are part of a family company? Or find themselves inheriting such a business? Are they to be barred from standing for public office or expected to resign once their inheritance comes into being?

Ultimately, this begs questions about what sort of people we want in our parliament.

It’s time to move on to more important matters.

Related topics

Higgins steps down from Tesco Bank

Wilson leaves Scottish Enterprise



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