As I See It
Mundell’s task should be providing answers
David Mundell’s new Scottish taskforce of business advisers is designed help steer UK government thinking on economic strategy, though it does look like a new weapon to use in his battle with the SNP.
The Scottish Secretary has yet not announced the membership of this new group, aside from commissioning former minister Andrew Dunlop to chair it.
The taskforce will take into account “challenges and opportunities arising from EU exit” but will be primarily focused on what underlying barriers there are to productivity and competitiveness in Scotland, and what interventions are necessary.
As such it will provide a means to build a case against the Holyrood administration’s running of the economy, and is shaping up to be his own version of the Scottish Government’s Council of Economic Advisers.
The needs of the economy will be intertwined with EU debate for some time and Mr Mundell will be looking for Scottish business to have input into the UK government’s negotiations with the EU.
Clearly he will be minded of the SNP government’s depiction of the Scottish business community as hostile to the EU talks because of the threats to jobs, the availability of skilled labour and the loss of tariff agreements posed by Brexit.
Scottish business may be worried by the impact of UK withdrawal from the EU, but there are those who want to make progress on the talks rather continue fighting battles they perceive as having been forfeited by the referendum vote last year.
The need to secure new deals with non-EU countries is moving up the agenda and to that end Mr Mundell is jetting off to South America this week.
He may be building the case for such deals but if Mr Mundell is to get a proper handle on the mood and views of Scottish business he needs to ensure that his taskforce is representative of both sides of the debate and not simply a hand-picked team who will tell him what he wants to hear.
To that extent it is difficult to understand why there is a need for a special taskforce when the country is already awash with long-established bodies representing all sectors of the economy and all opinions within it.
The FSB, IoD, CBI, Chambers of Commerce, SCDI, Fraser of Allander Institute, Scottish Retail Consortium, ScotlandIS, as well as professional business advisers, are all available and willing to offer as much advice as Mr Mundell should require.
What they all want in return is for him and other ministers to come up with some answers.