Row over Scottish Enterprise’s social remit

Row over Scottish Enterprise’s social remit

By Ken Symon and Noel Young
Sunday Herald

Enterprise agencies contest role communities should play in economic development

The chiefs of Scotland’s two main economic development agencies are at odds over whether their remit should include social inclusion.

Jim Hunter, the chairman of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, believes the community element is vital to the task of fostering economic growth.

But this runs counter to a call from Jack Perry, the chief executive of Scottish Enterprise, who argued in a recent speech that economic development bodies should have no responsibility for social inclusion.

Hunter’s approach was set out in a speech to MSPs in Edinburgh earlier this month. In it he was critical of what he sees as an existing lack of community focus in SE’s approach.

He said: “It’s a pity that down here in the central belt you’ve chosen to separate community development, community regeneration, from the task of fostering economic growth.

“Of course what happens in company boardrooms and university laboratories is central to the emergence of a smart, successful Scotland. But equally central, maybe more so, is the job of liberating all the talent, the potential, we’re squandering in Sighthill, or in Pilton, or the Raploch.”

Hunter said that the economic regeneration of the Highlands and Islands had to begin with “restoring our formerly demoralised population’s sense of worth”.

This included “encouraging both individuals and communities to take pride in their background” and “making people feel good about themselves and their surroundings”.

In contrast, Perry argued that SE “needs to return to a sharper focus on pure economic development”.

The SE chief executive also said: “I realise government has a duty to care for and support and, where possible, develop this latter group (the older, less skilled, and illiterate) but I do not believe this should be the primary responsibility of an economic development agency.”

Elsewhere in the speech he said: “At present we are responsible for a range of activities, from the rehabilitation of drug addicts to regeneration of the Clyde waterfront.

“Our purpose has become opaque and consequently our message confused.”

Perry’s speech had already attracted criticism, including privately from Jim Wallace, the enterprise minister.

It was reported by our sister paper The Herald that Perry’s stance was opposed by others in the SE network and that it raised a major question over which organisation would then take over these responsibilities.

The public services union Unison also expressed concern over the speech last week and sought assurances over the jobs of 400 employees at Careers Scotland, now part of SE.

The row emerged as Perry was flying into Boston this weekend on his first visit to the US as SE chief executive. Tomorrow he will attend a celebration for the first birthday of Scottish Development International’s Boston office, with a reception at the spectacular new world headquarters of Genzyme, one of the world’s leading biotech companies.

The venue was arranged with the help of Mark Bamforth, Genzyme’s senior vice-president for corporate operations and pharmaceuticals and a member of SE’s Global Scot scheme.

At the reception Perry will sign an agreement with the Massachusetts International Office of Trade and Investment. Perry said: “This is a big step for us as the Massachusetts economy, with its emphasis on biotechnology, research and education mirrors much of what we are doing in Scotland.

“The idea here is that we work together, leveraging resources for American firms who want to do business with Scotland, and Scottish firms who want to make an impression here.”

Source: Sunday Herald,