Scottish Enterprise weighs ‘orderly handover’ of non-core activities

Scottish Enterprise weighs ‘orderly handover’ of non-core activities

Terry Murden and Douglas Friedli
Scotland on Sunday

Scottish Enterprise chief executive Jack Perry has waded back into the debate over its responsibilities by saying there may have to be ‘an orderly handover’ of social programmes to other agencies.

Perry recently raised the issue of the agency’s ‘wide spectrum’ of responsibilities at a business leaders’ dinner, saying it had to handle everything from ‘social inclusion to drug addiction’. His comments added to growing speculation that he wants to jettison some of these roles.

Last night, speaking to Scotland on Sunday, he stressed that SE should not withdraw from anything unless there were guarantees that someone else could do it as well or better. But he is said to be keen on slimming down the agency’s activities to concentrate on a new core of strategic targets which will be unveiled in early June.

As revealed in Scotland on Sunday on April 4, the current 28 targets, which include such things as ‘115 social economy organisations undertaking a business development review’, are likely to be reduced to a more manageable 10 or 12.

The revelation prompted indications of a backlash if changes are not well managed. Alistair Grimes, chief executive of Community Enterprise Strathclyde, said there was an implication that this was a ‘woolly and irrelevant target’.

The political sensitivities of shifting Scottish Enterprise to a narrower range of duties will be uppermost with Perry, who is new to the job, but he is believed to be eager to steer the agency into areas where he thinks it can be most effective.

He is also likely to push for an emphasis on growth firms, rather than on start-ups, which was also the theme of a Royal Bank of Scotland report last week.

‘We will not abandon any group we serve, but there is a discussion about who best should serve them,’ he said.

‘We will never jettison anybody. It would need an orderly handover of some of our responsibilities. Someone who could do it better.  We are at an early stage of thinking about it. But there is no question of abandoning any client group, absolutely none.’

He stressed that he will be working closely with ministers to find the best way forward and ensure all groups were properly represented.

He will be in America this week to sign an agreement to help companies on either side of the Atlantic engage in cross-border projects.

Perry will announce the tie-up with the Massachusetts office of international trade at the headquarters of Genzyme, the US biotechnology group.

The accord aims to make it easier for companies from Massachusetts and Scotland to set up in each others’ territories, raise finance and access professional advice. The agencies have set a target of six such projects over the next two years.

The biotechnology industry is expected to be the main beneficiary of the agreement. Massachusetts and Scotland have strong life sciences industries, although the area around Boston in the US is more commercially advanced than its equivalent here.

Other industries – including financial services and information technology – will be able to participate in the partnership. Last year SE set up a similar trade deal with the government of Singapore.

After leaving Boston, Perry will fly to New York and the Texan cities of Houston and Austin. His trip will include meetings with US investors in Scotland and the US divisions of Scottish companies.