Scottish Enterprise

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:10 pm on 6th March 2003.

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Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 3:10 pm, 6th March 2003

To ask the First Minister whether the performance of Scottish Enterprise is satisfactory. (S1F-2550)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I fully support the use of an arm's-length organisation to deliver our enterprise strategy "A Smart, Successful Scotland". The strategy must be delivered in an effective and efficient manner. I believe that Scottish Enterprise is best placed to do that and is taking the right steps to ensure that it is even more effective in the future.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I am interested to hear the First Minister's reply, because this week one minister was quoted as saying that Scottish Enterprise is like

"an oil tanker running out of control".

Where does the First Minister stand on the issue? Concern about the performance of Scottish Enterprise is not confined to the Conservative benches, but exists outside the Parliament—it is widespread in the business community. Will the First Minister back the call by my colleague Annabel Goldie for a wide-ranging, independent inquiry into Scottish Enterprise? If he and the Executive have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear from such an inquiry.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I will make two straight, factual points. First, no minister made to any newspaper the comment that Murdo Fraser has cited. That will be confirmed in due course. Secondly, last Friday, Iain Gray and the chief executive of Scottish Enterprise said clearly that, if there are questions to answer about the way in which Scottish Enterprise does its business, Audit Scotland—which is able to audit the organisation's books because of legislation that I put through the Parliament—will consider them and report in due course. That is the right course of action, not to distract Scottish Enterprise from its vital job of creating growth and jobs in Scotland, but to ensure that, where allegations are made, they are investigated quickly and properly so that Scottish Enterprise can get on with its business and deliver for Scotland.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

I am pleased to hear the First Minister express his confidence in the Scottish Enterprise network. Does he agree that too many areas of Scotland, such as my area of Greenock and Inverclyde, have long-standing above-average levels of unemployment and low levels of economic activity? Does he agree that that requires a cross-cutting, co-ordinated approach from the Executive? Will he meet me to discuss how we can address those issues in my constituency?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Yes, of course I will be happy to meet Duncan McNeil to discuss those matters. They are critical in the Greenock and Inverclyde area, as they are in other parts of Scotland. I am aware of the economic pressures in that area and I am determined to see a range of public agencies providing full support to ensure that the sort of economic success that the area has enjoyed, despite difficult times, in the past 30 years can be repeated over the next 30 years.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

In relation to the article on Scottish Enterprise in The Scotsman last Friday, does the First Minister know who wrote the memo? Does he know who leaked the memo? If he finds out that it was written or leaked from within the Executive, will he sack the person responsible? Does he agree with me, the Confederation of British Industry Scotland and other sections of the business community that the campaign that The Scotsman has led for the past week to undermine the work of Scottish Enterprise is damaging not only to Scottish Enterprise, but to Scotland?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I have made my position on the matter quite clear. I do not know who wrote any memo; I have not seen any memo. To deflect the attention of our enterprise company at this stage to go searching for memos or for who might or might not have them would be a shame. If issues around that come out in due course, I am sure that they will be tackled by the right people at the right time. Mr Neil, who I understand is a passionate advocate of training and skills in this country, has to answer the question that I asked him in the chamber some weeks ago: why does his party support a cut of £150 million from a £480 million enterprise budget, given that such a cut would result in a reduction in training and skills, business support and the promotion of Scotland overseas? Is that really what he supports or is he simply keeping quiet for his party at election time?