Framework criticised

Hunter says Forbes’ wish list is not the route to growth

Tom Hunter at Scottish Edge
Sir Tom Hunter: has regularly questioned government strategy (pic: Terry Murden)

Entrepreneur and philanthropist Sir Tom Hunter has repeated his previous criticism of the Scottish government’s economic policies by describing the latest strategy as a ‘wish list’.

He said Finance Secretary Kate Forbes’ 10-year plan to transform the economy should have focused more on seeking answers from those who will generate jobs and wealth.

Ms Forbes outlined five key areas backed by 70 action plans that included creating a chief entrepreneurship officer and tackling low productivity and business growth. It will also focus on skills, low pay and diversity.

She said the country had to be ” bold, ruthless and laser-focused to maximise the impact of the actions we have identified” and said there would be “relentless” attention on delivery.

But Sir Tom said there was a need for a more focused approach rather than “a wish list with no magic wand to deliver it” and a need to take more decision making and agencies out of political control.

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He has made similar comments on earlier strategic plans, which were also expressed by Daily Business in August 2020 in response to the document produced by former banker Benny Higgins’ Action Group on Economic Recovery.

Responding to today’s statement delivered at at the Michelin Innovation Parc in Dundee, Sir Tom said: “Were this a business, which in most part it is, I would have focussed far more attention on asking the customer what is needed i.e. consulting with the people that are going to generate the jobs and economic prosperity.

“What we have here is a long wish list with no magic wand to deliver it, which I do not believe is market tested nor pragmatic. We need a far more focused approach to economic delivery and one single body with absolute authority and responsibility for that delivery with no one checking their own homework.

“We also need to tackle the various elephants in the room. If we are truly focused on increased productivity, we need to address that in our public sector.

“Scotland has 579,400 public sector employees; Denmark 338,000; the latter being the second happiest place on earth with 400,000 more of a population and we have 75% of their output per person.

“Improve public sector productivity and you are well on the way to delivering growth.

“And were Scotland a business would we have 32 subsidiaries? Our agencies such as Scottish Enterprise, which incidentally should be taken out of political control, must readjust to the future needs of business and be fit for purpose and our ambition be far greater – the Scottish National Investment Bank is vastly undercapitalised for its purpose if it is to achieve it.

“To be clear I admire Kate Forbes and I believe she sees the opportunities but in politics multiple interests tend to prevail as is apparent here.

“What we need is a business led economic growth strategy where we turbo charge scale-ups; the only entities that move the economic dial and greater support for early stage high growth businesses. Combine that with a productivity drive across the economic landscape including the public sector and an education system fit for purpose and we have a chance of winning in the global race for economic prosperity.

“Let business and Government genuinely come together, agree targets, timescales, budgets and responsibilities and get on with it.”

Struan Stevenson, chief executive of the anti-independence group Scottish Business UK, said the Scottish government “needed for once to show it is serious about the economy” but the finished plan “fundamentally fails to meet that challenge”.

He said two key elements are missing. The first is decisive KPIs for the many pledges contained in the strategy. Secondly, he said collaboration with the UK government is almost completely absent from discussion.

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“There was an opportunity here for a serious discussion on the best ways to work together across the UK to drive recovery and grow the Scottish economy. This has been spurned completely,” he said.

“The reason for these omissions is clear. Despite the fact that creating a new 10-year strategy effectively represents an acknowledgement that Scotland has all the tools it needs to thrive in the UK, Scottish ministers are still planning an independence referendum next year. That makes KPIs, together with true collaboration with our closest economic partners, completely redundant.  

“Yet if they succeeded in creating a hard border with the rest of the UK, as well as sowing chaos and confusion over currency, pensions and the funding of public services, the strategy announced today wouldn’t be worth the paper it’s written on.” 

Comment: A strategic wish list with fundamental flaws

What does the strategy say?

There are Six Programmes targeted by the National Strategy for Economic Transformation. The government’s plan is set out here:

  1. Entrepreneurial people and culture
  • we will create one of the most advanced entrepreneurial infrastructures in Europe by establishing a national system of pre-scaler hubs that will help stimulate the very earliest stages of high growth commercial and social entrepreneurship
  • through out education and skills system we will embed a culture in which entrepreneurship is encouraged, supported and celebrated, and where Scotland is recognised as one of the best countries in the world to start and to grow a business
  • attract international entrepreneurs to Scotland by rolling out an international marketing and engagement platform for Scotland’s start up scene
  • appoint a Chief Entrepreneurship Officer in the Scottish Government to work in partnership with industry and investors to drive forward our ambitions on entrepreneurship
  1. New market opportunities
  • to build on the legacy of COP26 we will establish an investor panel, chaired by the First Minister, to grasp the opportunities of the Just Transition to net zero. This panel will be focused on attracting investment that supports the development of net zero industries and will bring new quality green jobs to Scotland
  • promote Scotland as an innovative test bed for new technologies and markets
  • provide capital investment to support renewable hydrogen production to make Scotland a leading nation in the production of reliable, competitive and sustainable hydrogen
  1. Productive businesses and regions
  • we will work to improve productivity and address regional economic inequalities through actions such as setting up a Digital Productivity Fund to help businesses adopt new technologies
  • launch the Centre for Workplace Transformation to support experimentation in ways of working post-pandemic
  • appoint productivity ambassadors to promote understanding of how businesses can drive productivity improvements
  1. Skilled workforce
  • to ensure Scotland has the skills needed to drive economic transformation we will embed access to entrepreneurial learning in schools and colleges. Focusing on the transition to net zero, the digital revolution, and lifelong training, we will make sure employers have the supply of skills they need by developing a National Digital Academy
  • as well as providing people with the skills they need to gain new opportunities, the strategy will help ensure new and current businesses are supported in investing in innovative ideas that could lead to new industries and quality jobs across the country
  1. A fairer and more equal society
  • apply fair work conditionality to grants, requiring payment of real living wage, and channels for effective workers’ voice
  • deliver sectoral fair work agreements in areas of low pay, in partnership with industry and trades unions, that deliver payment of the real living wage, better security of work, and wider fair work first standards
  • support parents to increase their incomes from employment as part of cross-government action to deliver upon the ambitious targets set through the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017
  1. A culture of delivery
  • restructure existing boards to create a new National Strategy for Economic Transformation Board co-chaired by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Economy and a figure from the private sector, to include worker representatives
  • establish a programme to radically transform the way in which the public sector in Scotland provides support for workers and businesses
  • publish an annual progress report to enhance public accountability


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