Scottish Agricultural College

Question Time — Scottish Executive – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 12th June 2003.

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Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party 2:30 pm, 12th June 2003

To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will advise the Scottish Agricultural College to publish in full the Deloitte & Touche report on the college and the farm appraisal options for the farm at the Craibstone campus. (S2O-142)

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

The Scottish Agricultural College has already made public the main Deloitte & Touche report, which contains all the salient information from the option appraisal. The report to the college is supported by a volume of more detailed information. The Scottish Agricultural College is of the view that, for reasons of confidentiality, it would be inappropriate to publish that volume. The college holds the same view of the option appraisal of its farm facilities at Craibstone.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

I am rather disappointed with the answer that the minister has given, especially in the light of comments that he and his colleagues have made in the past. It is true that some of the Deloitte & Touche report has been published, but it is not true to say that all the salient points are in the public domain. I question the objectivity and independence of both that report and the totally separate report on the farm option appraisal for Craibstone. I seek the minister's help in putting those matters into the public domain for reasons of openness, transparency and accountability and to assist the parliamentary inquiry that is under way. Will the minister assure me that he will reconsider his previous answer and encourage the authorities to publish both reports in full?

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

I think that we might be talking at cross-purposes to some extent, but I will try to deal with the point. Executive officials have seen volume 2 of the report, which, in our opinion, supports phase 2 in volume 1 of the report. I do not believe there to be a conspiracy of silence in that regard.

We have no power to direct the SAC, which Mr Adam would have understood if he had listened to my previous response. However, as I am always ready to assist the Opposition, I state that I would welcome the publication of the volume in question and, today, I invite the SAC to publish it, save for any confidential material that it might contain.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

Does the minister agree that Scotland needs a national centre for land-based education and research and that the SAC's preferred option—a hub-and-satellite model—will create a national centre while maintaining a local specialism in Aberdeen and Ayrshire? Can the minister confirm that, as the SAC is a private company limited by guarantee, the final decision on the future of the college will be made by the board of directors?

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

The answer to the last question is yes. However, for the public record, I will state that ministers should have considerable influence in that decision as a result of the significant public funding that goes into the SAC. We need to ensure that we receive best value for that funding, so I am firmly of the opinion that ministers need to be satisfied that any reconfiguration is in the taxpayers' best interests. On the first part of the question, the partnership agreement provides, in the longer term, for the examination of the case for the development of a rural development institute. We will take that forward in accordance with the agreement.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

Will the minister go further and accept that it is essential that, now that the Environment and Rural Development Committee has decided to invite representatives of the SAC to give evidence on 25 June, all information pertaining to the matter is made available to the committee so that the issues can be fully discussed in public with all the facts to hand?

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

No. It would be inappropriate of me to pre-empt the parliamentary inquiry that is under way. The members conducting the inquiry can request whatever information they feel is necessary for them to reach a satisfactory conclusion. That might include some of the information to which Alex Johnstone referred.