Dialogue call

McKee says ministers need business experience

Ivan McKee
Ivan McKee: dialogue must be meaningful (pic: Terry Murden)

A former Scottish government trade minister says all “lived experience” of business is vital in formulating effective policy.

Ivan McKee worked in the manufacturing sector before entering politics and held the business, trade, tourism and enterprise brief between 2021 and 2023. Previous ministerial jobs have included public finance and trade.

However, he was overlooked in Humza Yousaf’s first Cabinet appointments. Shona Robison and Neil Gray were given cabinet posts as finance secretary and wellbeing economy secretary respectively while Mr McKee was forced to settle for the back benches.

In a column he said “a narrative has taken hold in recent years that the Scottish government doesn’t ‘get’ business”. Scottish government policies such as the deposit return scheme (DRS) and proposed alcohol advertising bans had caused concern among business leaders.

He said there was “no shortage of government engagement with business”, but dialogue must be “meaningful”, leading to businesses feeling like they are being listened to and not just “being used as a prop for a photocall”.

Mr McKee insisted all economy and business ministers should have “lived experience” within the sectors to understand the problems facing firms.

“Having lived experience helps,” he said. “Sure, businesses don’t expect politicians to be experts, but being able to have empathy beyond soundbites really helps. A government without any business experience in its ranks starts off at a disadvantage.”

McKee added: “Despite the hard work of many, the perception persists that government needs to reset its relationship with business. I know the first minister understands that. The problem is that once that narrative takes root, it is difficult to shake it off.”

His comments follow the First Minister’s pledge to “reset” the relationship with business and the first meeting of a New Deal group involving business representatives. Ms Robison told a gathering of tax specialists that the government wanted them to hep formulate policy.

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “The first minister has made clear a new deal for business is one of his government’s key priorities.

“Urgent discussions have already begun on how to develop this new deal, exploring how government can better support our businesses and communities using the policy levers at our disposal.”

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