Mairi McAllan interview

Search for SE chair goes on, Tydeman ‘not my decision’

Mairi McAllan
Mairi McAllan: there is a clamour for certainty on the SE chair (pic: Terry Murden)

Before she steps back in July to take maternity leave, Economy Secretary Mairi McAllan is dealing with an oversupply of unfinished business. Aside from the sacking of the chief executive of Ferguson Marine, she is now looking to fill another big job.

The chair of Scottish Enterprise has been vacant since Lord Smith left at the end of July 2022. It was re-advertised in October after the initial search ended in failure. It was hoped to have someone in place by 1 April this year.

Ms McAllan told Daily Business: “It is a very important role and I know there has been a clamour for certainty on this.

“We have undertaken a recruitment process, though I was not involved. I am looking into whether it remains as I want to see it.”

The country’s biggest economic development agency did identify someone before Lord Smith left, but it is understood the preferred candidate turned it down.

Previous incumbents have included Crawford Gillies, a management consultant who has sat on the boards of FTSE 100 companies, Sir Ian Robinson, who was CEO of ScottishPower, and Sir Ian Wood, the oil industry executive. The role is currently being performed on an “interim” basis by former banker Willie Mackie.

The role comes with a pay package of £49,224 for 91 days per year, representing a slight increase on the £49,049 initially offered That was 10.2% higher than Lord Smith’s remuneration of £44,520. 

There is no expectation of a specific weekly commitment. Reasonable expenses incurred will be reimbursed and the appointment is non-pensionable.

Former SE chairman Lord Smith with Steve Dunlop who resigned as CEO (pic: Terry Murden)

According to the brief, the chair will play “a key role in supporting the CEO and wider organisation to continue the journey of transformational change which is required by the National Strategy for Economic Transformation (NSET)”. That was the strategy introduced by former Finance Secretary Kate Forbes in March 2022 aimed at shaping government policy.

Whoever becomes the next chair will oversee an agency which has seen its remit diminished, with many of its former roles hived off or re-engineered around other agencies giving it less command over such key areas as skills (now Skills Development Scotland), business advice (Business Gateway), digitisation (Mark Logan and Codebase), and transport and infrastructure (Transport Scotland).

Lord Smith also lost his CEO, Steve Dunlop, who admitted to imposter syndrome and resigned after just two and a half years in the job. He was replaced by Adrian Gillespie who joined from the commercial department at Strathclyde University.

Ms McAllan will create her own temporary vacancy when she steps aside to have her first baby in July.

She said she would expect the First Minister to appoint someone from the party’s senior ranks to take her place.

“I don’t think it would be right to promote a junior minister and then take it away [when she returns],” she said.

She added that she would like an early decision on who will take over.

Ms McAllan notified the First Minister of her pregnancy at the beginning of the year, before being appointed to the role in a Cabinet reshuffle.

She was speaking yesterday after addressing a gathering of technology entrepreneurs in Edinburgh marking the first annual report of the Techscaler initiative to support scale up companies.

On the sacking of David Tydeman as CEO of ferry builder Ferguson Marine, she insisted he had not been made a scapegoat.

“No, the decision was the board’s,” she replied. “It is for them, not me.” She added that “as a lawyer” she would insist he was legally entitled to be paid up according to the terms of his contract. She confirmed that interim CEO John Petticrew, a non-executive director of Ferguson Marine and a resident in Canada, will relocate temporarily to the UK.

It emerged on Wednesday that she was told Mr Tydeman’s job was under threat almost a month before his contract was terminated.

Liberal Democrat economy spokesman Willie Rennie claimed “ministers’ fingerprints are all over this” and that “David Tydeman told the SNP what they didn’t want to hear and it looks like he’s now paying the price.”

Willie Rennie
Willie Rennie: ministers fingerprints are ‘all over’ the sacking of Ferguson Marine CEO

The former owner of the Ferguson Marine shipyard, which is building two massively delayed and over-budget ferries, has described the sacking of the chief executive as “appalling” and blamed the delays on Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) — the Scottish government-owned body that owns the vessels, ports and infrastructure for Scotland’s lifeline ferry services.

Jim McColl said: “The problems have been caused by the real shortcomings in the specification, which were CMAL, and that’s where the base of the problems are.”

CMAL said: “We have responded to these false claims on a number of occasions. Ferguson Marine Engineering Limited had an opportunity to test their claims in court but chose not to pursue this remedy given that they had no substance. CMAL is firmly focused on the delivery of the two new vessels.”

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