I invite members who wish to contribute to the debate to press their request-to-speak button now or as soon as possible, or, if they are joining us online, to place an R in the chat function.
Today’s debate marks the first anniversary of the Scottish National Investment Bank, which formally takes place on 23 November.
Many of us have spent the past two weeks immersed in the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—and in climate change, which is a generational world-wide challenge. That has only reinforced the original vision of the bank and the missions that were set for it. The bank, with its ability to offer patient capital and to draw in private investment to address critical challenges such as climate change and a just transition to net zero, is more crucial than ever. If we want to achieve our goals on climate change, housing and demographic challenges, now is the time for innovative public sector finance.
Furthermore, the bank’s ability to work with the private sector and our enterprise agencies is essential in supporting projects and businesses to grow across Scotland.
I have constituents with businesses operating in the net zero space who would welcome engagement with the Scottish National Investment Bank but, at present, they have difficulty understanding how to access it. Will the cabinet secretary outline how people should go about approaching the bank? Should that be through Scottish Enterprise, or is there some other route?
The member asks an important question. I will go on to explain how the bank sits alongside Scottish Enterprise.
The bank has been operational for only just under a year. It has been building its functions as well as making investments, which is quite remarkable for a start-up. Individuals should approach the bank directly; I am sure that the chief executive, Eilidh Mactaggart, would welcome that approach. The form of financing that the bank offers will not be for every business—it may be that the grants and loans that are available from Scottish Enterprise, rather than investment from the bank, may be best for early-stage businesses.
I reflect on the point that structural change, such as the change that I have just outlined, benefits from cross-party support. At its inception, the bank enjoyed cross-party support, to the credit of everybody who was involved. I hope that that can continue—perhaps it will be made easier by the fact that the bank is, and will always be, operationally independent of ministers.
I will reflect on why we set up the bank. As Murdo Fraser alluded, we already support many small and medium-sized enterprises to access finance. However, evidence that was given at the time that the bank was set up, which is still applicable, suggested that, in order for Government investment to have an impact, it needed to be big, and the bank needed a scale and a skill set to match the private sector with which it seeks to engage.
We deliberately committed £2 billion in initial capital for the bank—a scale of ambition that was significantly greater than that for earlier initiatives, and a statement of our intent for the bank’s impact over the longer term. Having made a strong start in its first year, the bank is already delivering against its missions and actively investing in new technologies for the future, creating an environment for additional private investment and leading in the creation of new markets. That should positively affect the scale and direction of private investment, alongside Scottish Government capital and commitment to the bank.
The cabinet secretary is quite right about scale, so I note with concern that the amount of financial transactions money coming through in the coming financial year is significantly down on previous years. Given that that money is the primary source of financing, does that call into question the ability to scale? If so, what is the Government’s plan to address that?
I would dispute an element of that. We have seen that financial transactions are actually higher than was expected next year and are then falling considerably in years 2 and 3. The question of how we will provide that finance, therefore, still stands.
We are committed to £2 billion of funding. We hope to do that through financial transactions, but our commitment remains the same, and we will ensure that we deliver on it, whether through capital or financial transactions. That is not to say that it is not hard—it is extremely hard to address those long-term commitments when we see FTs and capital falling. Nonetheless, I think that we would all reflect on the scale of the challenge ahead and on the need for public finance to work closely with private finance.
The mission element of the bank’s objectives is a hugely important part of the original statement of intent. The bank’s missions support the just transition to net zero, and they are focused on improving places and allowing people to flourish through innovation. Indeed, the mission focus—the SNIB is the first mission-based bank in the United Kingdom—was obviously such a good idea that the UK Government is now copying it for the UK Infrastructure Bank.
Just today, the SNIB announced a £13 million investment in the Iona wind partnership to accelerate the delivery of the Iona onshore wind pipeline, taking advantage of Scotland’s natural capital to help to achieve our net zero targets. The missions are important because it is through those missions that the bank is here to deliver long-term outcomes, not outcomes that are based on electoral cycles. The bank wants not only to invest, but to do so intelligently, alongside private capital, in order to make and shape markets with public purpose at its core. In its first year, the bank has not only built up its capabilities from an investment team of two to a team of 30 and above; it has made investments, which is a remarkable achievement that is to the credit of the chief executive, Eilidh Mactaggart.
First, I apologise for being just a few minutes late to the chamber—I had to deal with an urgent call.
I agree with what the cabinet secretary says about longer-term planning. However, should we not have a degree of timescale in place so that the outcomes to which she just referred are clear, and so that, for people who want to take advantage of the facilities that the Scottish National Investment Bank will offer, progress against them can be measured more effectively?
Liz Smith’s point is well made—it is also highlighted in the Conservative amendment. There is a need to have metrics that look beyond immediate political returns, and the bank is working on that—as I said, it is still a start-up. It has an obligation, for example, to publish metrics that look at not just the financial and commercial returns but the social and environmental returns. We need to ensure that key performance indicators work, and the bank is working on that with the Scottish Government.
How we measure the success of long-term objectives is a challenge for all members. If the bank does its job well, there will be a commercial return, but there will also be other returns. My hope is that those returns will outlive this parliamentary session at least.
On investments, when the First Minister launched the bank last year, it was with a £12.5 million investment in M Squared Lasers, which is a laser technology company. Since then, the bank has taken great strides in becoming the financial institution for Scotland that we need and expect. It has made a number of investments, including a £1 million investment in R3-IoT to scale up its pioneering satellite technology, £2 million in Forev for vehicle charge points, £3 million in Industrial Nature—IndiNature—to create a manufacturing plant in the Borders and, in one of its most exciting investments, £6 million in Sunamp to develop thermal energy storage technology, or heat batteries. Sunamp has gone on to secure a major export agreement with China during COP26. In addition, the bank invested £6.4 million in Nova Innovation to help to expand its production of innovative tidal turbines, generating zero carbon energy in remote communities.
The cabinet secretary has described a really exciting portfolio of investments. One of the big strategic problems that Scotland has faced is that the early commercialisation of start-ups has often ended with Scottish companies being subject to foreign takeovers. Is there an opportunity for the bank, as it makes strategic investments in companies, to protect them from predatory takeovers that prevent them from becoming the big global commercial players that we could build in Scotland?
That is a really important point. I know that that is an area of discussion for the bank. One of its three missions is place; in other words, it wants to ensure that the investments that it makes have a lasting legacy in particular locations, which might be locations where there is a higher number of disadvantaged communities. If jobs leave an area, that would not deliver on the core mission of place—Paul Sweeney makes a good point.
The bank has an obligation to deliver a commercial return. However, it also has an obligation to the people of Scotland. It is not the bank of a Government or a party; it is the bank of the people of Scotland, and its obligation is to deliver, on a long-term basis, in order to change our country.
The need for the bank remains clear. It will help to drive financial innovation and to channel investment at scale into the areas of the economy that offer solutions to the biggest problems that Scotland faces. It is only one part of our set of ambitions, but I hope that all members welcome what the bank has achieved as a start-up in just under a year of operation.
That the Parliament notes the impact that the Scottish National Investment Bank, the first mission-based investment bank in the UK, has made in its first year since launch in November 2020; supports the progress made by the bank through a wide range of investments in its first year; recognises the important role that the bank has in delivering a just transition to a net-zero economy; notes the need for innovative finance to achieve Scotland’s goals on climate targets, housing and demographic challenges, and notes that the bank will continue to strengthen its role through investing in Scottish business, projects and communities and delivering positive environmental and social impacts, and positive financial returns for the people of Scotland, for many years to come.
When it comes to national investment banks, just as is the case for other financial institutions, their purpose has to be abundantly clear, not least because they are underpinned by the public purse for which Governments are, rightly, held accountable. They must be able to demonstrate that, in terms of key economic indicators—whether on productivity, investment, job creation, innovation or growth—they can deliver better outcomes for the nation as a whole. I will consider those points in turn.
On the need for the Scottish National Investment Bank, about which the Parliament was agreed in principle last year, we, on the Conservative benches, still very much believe that a little more should be done to clarify the central purpose of the bank because, despite the missions that are referred to in the Scottish Government motion, the central purpose of the bank has never been completely clear.
I think the cabinet secretary would admit that there was some dubiety even within the ranks of the Scottish National Party between 2014 and 2016 about what that purpose should be. John Swinney talked about whether we should build on the existing bank and said that there would not be a new one. We know that there were concerns last year, which I think came out in response to a question by my colleague Dean Lockhart, about how the new investment bank would articulate with the other growth agencies and where the additional money would come from. That is an absolutely key point. I have sympathy in that regard with part of the Labour amendment, if not with its entirety. Daniel Johnson raises an important issue about some of those principles.
We also know that, in 2014, Nicola Sturgeon spoke about the main role of the new investment bank being to provide “patient capital investment”. That idea had moved on a little by 2019 to the aim of financing investment in net zero technology. That is laudable, but the goalposts have shifted slightly and there is an issue of coherence. I am not speaking for myself; I am speaking on behalf of a lot of people in business, who feel that lack of coherence.
I am curious about Liz Smith’s views. The bank is operationally independent. The temptation for Government is to micromanage investment and to be overly prescriptive about what the bank should invest in. If that happens, businesses will come to me and say, “We asked the bank for money and we didn’t get it.”
We wanted the bank’s missions to be quite broad. There is a balance to strike between breadth and prescription. Where does the member come down on that balance?
There is undoubtedly a balance to strike. The key thing that businesses are asking for is a little clarity about what will be expected from them when they make an application. They particularly want to know when the Scottish National Investment Bank is going to deliver something. My concern is that the bank is a good idea in principle but we do not have the criteria for what a successful investment would be and how that would deliver within the macroeconomy. That is the point that many Scottish Conservatives were making this time last year. How does it all fit together? I agree with Daniel Johnson’s point about the role of Scottish Enterprise. How does that all fit together? Businesses want answers to those questions and we must address that.
I read quite a bit about the investment strategy as I tried to drill down and find answers to the questions that I have posed. I also tried to find minutes of bank board meetings. Perhaps I was not looking in the right place, but I could not find them. There must be clarity about the bank’s purpose. If it is to provide patient capital, that is important, because it is about the longer term. The cabinet secretary is right that that is not a Scottish Government thing or a political party thing, but it matters, big time, for the future growth of the economy, so we must have clarity about that.
There is a serious issue about small and medium-sized enterprises, many of which are struggling to cope with debt at the moment and to make ends meet. Those companies want to know a little more about the Scottish Government’s role in supporting SMEs. They are the bedrock of the economy—no one doubts that. How does that all fit together?
The cabinet secretary knows that we support the principle of the Scottish National Investment Bank, as we said in the chamber and in committees last year. However, a year on, we feel strongly that now is not the right time to judge how successful the bank can be. What matters is its relationship with the other economic agencies, particularly with regard to growth, entrepreneurship and innovation. We still have a lot to do before we can demonstrate how the bank will be beneficial to Scotland.
I move amendment S6M-02127.1, to insert at end:
“, and, to that end, wants to see much greater clarity from the Scottish Government over the role of the bank, how its achievements will be measured, including how it will attract private sector investment, as well as make best use of taxpayers’ funds, and how it will support small and medium-sized enterprises, which are the bedrock of the economy.”
We are, without doubt, facing the greatest moment of economic upheaval in about 80 years. In that context, Labour welcomes a debate about industrial strategy, the role of patient capital and the role of the state in investment. The issue that we have is that, one year on, rather than just celebrating the creation of the Scottish National Investment Bank—which, indeed, we do—we really need to ask what is next. We need to ask what role the bank should play in the recovery that we must ensure happens. We need to ask ourselves what its role is in transition further to the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26.
Instead, however, we have a Government motion that is a little complacent. I listened to the cabinet secretary’s speech and I would not disagree with a word that she said about the need for the investment bank. She rehearsed the logic of its creation instead of exploring its strategic challenges and how they will change, as they need to, in the light of COP26 and the pandemic.
Even in narrower terms—I was grateful for the cabinet secretary’s response to my intervention—there are serious questions about the bank’s long-term financing, because, even at £2 billion, it is questionable whether the bank will achieve the scale that she correctly identifies as being critical to its success.
I will in a moment.
We need to see £200 million or thereabouts per year, but we know that the financial transactions money is reducing. That is a headache, to quote the cabinet secretary, but there is a not a word in the Government’s motion about how it is going to address that. If the cabinet secretary has something to add on that, I would be grateful and I will take her intervention.
I will make two points. First, we need to distinguish the bank in terms of its objectives. It needs to deliver a return, and, in doing so, it will hopefully become self-sustaining. It also has an objective to crowd in and leverage private investment. I do not think that anyone is suggesting that £2 billion is sufficient in and of itself to meet the challenges, but the whole point of the bank is that it can add value through being able to leverage in private investment. We know that, post COP26, substantial private investment is looking for a home, and I want that home to be in investable propositions in Scotland.
Without doubt, that is important. The ability to draw in wider private investment is critical, but that is not really my question. My key question is how we are going to achieve that £2 billion of capitalisation. We cannot have patient capital if the bank is not sufficiently capitalised.
There are broader issues regarding enterprise support and policy in the round. Despite the creation of the bank, the Government is spending approximately 40 per cent less, in real terms, on enterprise support than it was spending 10 years ago. Nor has the focus of enterprise support improved. Five years ago, the Government spent a great deal of time discussing the need to streamline and simplify the enterprise support landscape, but, since then, we have seen the creation of two new agencies and three new boards. The truth is that enterprise policy has seen an erosion in funding, and the bodies and the system that the Government has put in place are more confusing. We need to address that, but the Government has failed to use the opportunity of this debate to do so.
The motion mentions a role for the Scottish National Investment Bank in the drive to net zero. That is important, but we need to develop more detail on precisely how it should do that and what the focus should be. I welcome the investments that have been made to date, such as that in Nova, which was name-checked by the cabinet secretary, but I met renewables firms yesterday and they were clear that much more needs to be done to encourage innovation and growth in the sector.
We are simply not learning the lessons that Denmark learned 30 years ago, when it seeded the creation of the wind turbine industry there. Nor are we seeing any proposals, as suggested by agencies such as South of Scotland Enterprise, for the investment bank to act as an aggregator so that this crucial sector—and, indeed, others—can benefit.
The Scottish National Investment Bank was created to provide finance where the market fails to do so. The past 20 months have seen the greatest disruption to business as usual that we could imagine. The impacts of Covid, which in turn have created supply chain challenges, have left businesses in turmoil. We need to understand the role that the bank can play so that businesses can weather the current short-to-medium term instability and realise longer-term success. Once again, however, we see nothing on that in the Government’s motion for this debate.
The Scottish National Investment Bank is welcome, but we must be clear: the motion and the use of parliamentary time for it are a missed opportunity. We face big challenges. We need to make big changes, and a state investment bank has a critical part to play. That is why we have raised the issues in our amendment. The Government should be using its parliamentary time to discuss those big issues and to invite big ideas. We will not always agree, but the Government might find it useful to dare to use parliamentary time in that broader and more ambitious way.
I move amendment S6M-02127.2, to leave out from the second “notes” to end and insert:
“considers that the inadequate progress made by the bank in creating green jobs for the future has hindered Scotland’s wider economic recovery from the impact of the pandemic and the transition to net zero; believes that the bank will be unable to make the socio-economic impact it was intended to achieve due to insufficient funding; further believes that other enterprise agencies have also faced real-term cuts at a time that they should be focussing on Scotland’s economic recovery, and calls on the Scottish Government to repurpose Scottish Enterprise as a business recovery agency to work in partnership with other regional enterprise agencies in order to grow Scotland’s economy.”
I speak as someone who, for many years, has been concerned about banking in general, and I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests: I remain an ambassador for the all-party parliamentary group on fair business banking at Westminster. I am grateful that, for once, I can make a positive speech about an important aspect of banking that is helping investment and business, that is focused on the future and that is building success.
The SNIB has three bold ambitions, although some would say that they are too ambitious and will be difficult to achieve. I agree with the latter, but, for me, the former—while boldness and audacity of ambition can only ever be striven for—is exactly the point.
We can already see that, in its first year of operations, the SNIB has been pursuing its guiding missions and strategy to real effect. That is a tribute to everyone involved.
Scottish Financial News reports that, in its first year, the bank has agreed deals that are worth an estimated £160 million across eight projects. Five of those are focused on contributing towards net-zero developments, two on harnessing innovation, and one on building communities. It would have been understandable if the first year of operations was focused solely on building institutional capacity and engagement, so such early investment in support for critical areas is to be greatly welcomed.
We all know that the model that is required for patient capital is different, as is attitude to risk. During the debate, perhaps we will be able to focus more on that when we look at the work of Scottish Enterprise in comparison to that of the SNIB. Since patient capital is about investing for the future, it is likely to be some years before we can properly measure the effect of the bank’s investment strategy.
I am sure that I am not alone in being heartened by an open declaration of ethics and good governance, as they encourage institutional behaviours that rest very easily with our financial tradition in Scotland. It is important to emphasise the ethics around the SNIB. However, such progress brings its own challenges. In the light of COP26 and in considering the needs of the Scottish economy, there is so much that we need to do, particularly in relation to our net-zero ambitions and supporting innovation.
I note the comments of Willie Watt, the bank’s chairman, when he spoke in Glasgow at COP26. I think that we will all have heard this, but, for the record:
“The Scottish Government has given ... a promise of £2 billion over the first ten years of the bank’s life. It is insufficient to crack the missions. We need to be able to raise third-party capital and we want to earn the right to borrow on our own balance sheet.”
I agree with that statement. Given the lack of real borrowing powers available to the Scottish Government, it is in some respects remarkable that it has had the foresight to make such medium-term funding commitments. However, had we a much more effective and appropriate fiscal framework in operation—or, indeed, if we were independent—we would be able to borrow to invest and to do so much more.
Briefly, I hope that, in her closing remarks, the minister will be able to reflect on the following questions. Does the Government agree with Willie Watt that, to achieve the bank’s mission, we need to be able to develop its ability to raise third-party capital? She may want to reflect further on leverage. Does the Government agree that, in renegotiating the fiscal framework, it is in Scotland’s interests to ensure that the Government has significantly enhanced borrowing powers, in order to enable further Government investment in the SNIB?
I applaud the early work of the SNIB and look forward to the stage at which it will have been merely an hors d’oeuvre for a more substantial course in the future.
I apologise to the Presiding Officer and others that, due to unforeseen circumstances, I am not able to be in the chamber with you today or to take interventions.
As we know, the creation of a Scottish National Investment Bank, under various guises, was a long time coming. That words have become action is a positive. The creation of the bank earned qualified support across the chamber, and I believe that members are still largely behind it. In the previous session, I was a member of the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee, which led on the SNIB bill. The creation of the bank also played a part in a number of other areas of the committee’s work programme.
There is a lot to be said about the approach taken to the SNIB, but I will have to limit myself to a few key areas. One of those is the continuing issue—cautioned against by the committee—of a cluttered landscape for enterprise support in Scotland. There were concerns that a new institution could add to an already confusing array of bodies, funds and agencies. That was an important enough concern to see John Swinney drop proposals for a development bank in 2016, calling instead for enhancing the remit of existing bodies. Perhaps inevitably, the past two years have seen the situation balloon even further, as Covid support and post-pandemic support have played an important role in keeping businesses operating. If the SNIB is to be its own institution, it must be collaborative and work in tandem with other organisations in the enterprise space.
Another key issue is the regional element. We must not forget that Scotland is more than just one economy. Yes, we are part of a highly integrated UK single market with a flow of goods and services, but, on a local level, we see differences within Scotland. For example, we can see that the Highlands and Islands and the south of Scotland are quite different from the central belt or, at an even more granular level, how small island economies such as mine work.
One consequence of the bank’s creation has been the leapfrogging of the regional focus of the existing enterprise agencies. In my region, we can look to the work of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which carries on the tradition of the Highlands and Islands Development Board, which was a body with a specific focus on what would now be called holistic regional growth, or even levelling up. The SNIB is a new body working in those areas, and one without links that have been built up over decades.
With work, however, a national investment bank can also be a local bank. The committee pointed to the model of the Welsh Development Bank, which has offices across Wales and is better integrated with local economic development agencies. However, it became clear that that was not the direction in which the Scottish Government was travelling. If—as was posited at the time—the SNIB’s solution was to work closely with enterprise agencies such as HIE to build on their local knowledge and promote similar social objectives, it is far from apparent in its current investment portfolio.
The third area that I will touch on is purpose. There were warnings that the diversification of the bank’s objectives would prevent it from having a clear mission. I appreciate the stresses that such an institution will have in promoting economic growth through patient capital, promoting innovation, investing sustainably, supporting work towards net zero and investing in communities. The main concern voiced during the passage of the SNIB bill was that the bank would risk trying to do too much, but it now appears that the risk is one of inertia, at least in relation to its core objectives. If we are to make a real assessment of progress, the information emerging from the SNIB must be expanded and more detailed.
The challenge behind publicly sponsored investment in business is to find clear purpose. To go back to first principles, simply replicating the role of private finance and investment fails to add value. However, as we have seen with the SNIB, that purpose has to be clear and well understood, and it must provide more than simply an abstract vision. The worry must be that that purpose seems, if anything, less clear than it was during the early stages of the bank’s inception. Combine that with a lack of clear performance indicators and we have a report card that we cannot, in all sincerity, mark properly. The SNIB is now part of our economic framework. However, although it may provide patient capital, there is a reasonable cause for impatience to see evidence that it is playing an important role in that landscape.
Scottish National Investment Bank is a vital ingredient in our recovery from Covid and our future prosperity. In other countries across the world, we have seen Governments use their extensive borrowing powers to invest in projects that are strategically important. Here, in Scotland, we have very limited borrowing powers. The SNIB was set three missions by the Scottish Government. It was to support the transition to net zero and build communities and promote equalities, alongside harnessing innovation in a way that enables our people to flourish.
As members said, SNIB was to be provided with funding of £2 billion over the next 10 years. Recently, in evidence to the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee, Willie Watt, the SNIB’s chairman, said that the Scottish Government’s statutory adviser, the Climate Change Committee
“has estimated that Scotland will need to invest £5 billion a year over the next 10 to 20 years”,
to meet its strict net zero targets. Willie Watt said that the SNIB needs to be able to seed-fund and leverage much of that funding opportunity, and he told the committee:
“The combination of good investments that make sense in relation to climate change and commercial returns is important. We want to foster and encourage that combination.”—[
Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee
, 21 September 2021; c 8.]
The SNIB has made an encouraging start and has made a profit of about £828,000 in the period since it opened 12 months ago. Accounts for the period reveal that growth profit for the period was about £3.8 million, with total equity from investments worth about £31 million. In total, the SNIB made eight investments across the period, which were worth £160 million. As the cabinet secretary said, that included £6 million for Sunamp in my constituency, which produces innovative heat batteries. I will visit Sunamp in the next few weeks. The company is looking to expand its team from 30 to 45.
On the ability to grow the SNIB, Willie Watt commented that he is humbled by the commitment, but
“it is not enough ... to meet our missions ... we need to be able to manage third-party capital”.—[
Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee
, 21 September 2021; c 13.]
As the cabinet secretary said, the SNIB is seeking Financial Conduct Authority approval to borrow on its own balance sheet and raise capital from the private markets. That is important.
When the SNIB was endorsed, following Benny Higgins’s report, the First Minister described the plans as “truly transformative” and on a different scale from earlier Government initiatives. Mr Higgins said:
“This is a clear message that Scotland is a country ambitious in its growth aspirations, a country that is adaptable to change and a country that supports businesses across all stages of the business growth life cycle—the bank will be crucial as we compete in a global market to attract inward investors.”
Scotland remains a top choice for investors, outside London, which is vital when we consider the investment that is required post COP26, as the cabinet secretary said. The “EY Scotland Attractiveness Survey 2021” shows that Scotland remains a prime location for international companies that are considering foreign investment. Scotland’s foreign direct investment performance is outpacing that of Europe and the rest of the UK. Scotland has reinforced its position as the most attractive location for inward investment in the UK outside London—a position that it has held since 2014—with a 5.9 per cent increase in FDI projects. Growth in FDI in Scotland outpaced that of the UK and Europe, with Scotland’s share of UK inward investment growing from 9.1 per cent to 11 per cent.
The EY report examines Scotland’s performance and perceptions of the UK and Europe as destinations for FDI, with reference to a survey of 2,000 international investors. The report highlights an increase in investors who rank Scotland as the most attractive part of the UK in which to establish operations.
Members should imagine an independent Scotland with borrowing powers like those of any other country, supporting investment from all over the world. Scotland almost invented the modern world—televisions, telephones and penicillin, among other things. Voltaire said:
“We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilization.”
We can be that world leader, but we need the powers of independence to allow us to do so.
I make my remarks this afternoon not because we want the Scottish National Investment Bank to fail but—quite the reverse—because we want it to succeed. We want to avoid the socialisation of risk and the privatisation of rewards. We want this new, publicly owned bank to be a pivotal part of the active, innovative developmental state that we have always needed and that we now need more than ever as we deal with the pandemic, the end of furlough, Brexit and the climate change crisis.
The Scottish National Investment Bank should be at the very centre of a Scottish Government industrial strategy. It should be at the very centre of a plan for good-quality jobs with wages that people can live on. It should be driving the just transition to a net-zero-carbon economy, promoting economic democracy and equality, and building community wealth.
However, there is precious little sign of that from the Government. The Government’s claim to have delivered
“a wide range of investments” is wide of the mark. Almost three quarters of the money that the bank has allocated so far has gone to just one project, which is run by a specialist asset management company, that is, an intermediary vehicle, whose advisers include the chairman of Serco plc and the global head of healthcare at the private equity group 3i Group—two multinational corporations with an active interest in the privatisation of public services.
I am not suggesting that the bank’s day-to-day operations should be run by the Government or by the Parliament, but this is a public bank. It should at all times be run in the public interest for the people, by the people—not in the interests of bankers and private equity asset strippers.
I will ask the same question as I asked Liz Smith. Does Richard Leonard think that the Government should be more prescriptive, thereby ensuring that the bank is not operationally independent? That is a genuine question. Does his vision for the bank involve the Government being more prescriptive, rather than leaving such matters to the independence of the bank?
I am just about to come on to that.
This afternoon, we are again saying that a wider range of economic voices, including from trade unions, should be on the bank’s main board in order to bring wider experience, accountability and engagement. Back in January 2020, on the day that Parliament voted through the bill to create the bank, I warned the cabinet secretary’s predecessor that the investment bank, as established, lacked courage and ambition, that it bore the hallmarks of too much tame mediocrity and that it remained woefully undercapitalised. So, I was intrigued to read, just a few days ago, the honest assessment of the chair of what the Government describes as this mission-based investment bank, Willie Watt. He said:
“The Scottish government has given us a promise of £2 billion over the first ten years of the bank’s life. It is insufficient to crack the missions.”
Let me make this final point to the cabinet secretary. Her predecessor would not listen to those of us who were making constructive criticisms in the lead-up to the creation of this public bank. I hope that the Government will listen, will hear and will act on those who are making constructive criticisms now, including the chair of the bank, whom not Parliament but the Government itself appointed. That would not be a sign of weakness; it would be a sign of strength. It would demonstrate scrutiny, accountability and democracy at work. I hope that that positive, long-lasting outcome will result from today’s short parliamentary debate.
We, in the Parliament, are great at identifying problems. Sometimes, though, we are less good at identifying solutions to those problems. The Scottish National Investment Bank offers a great opportunity and a good example of one such solution.
We might ask what the problem is and why it has not been solved by other approaches. The problem here is, of course, the inability of the market to appropriately analyse risk and allocate resources to address the serious risks and challenges that we face. All too often, finance is made available for recognised investment opportunities rather than for things that we need to create a better future.
Banks were investing in coal mines long, long after the risk of investing in coal should have made such investments inappropriate. Those same banks refused to invest in wind energy or other renewables early enough or at scale. The costs of those decisions are not just felt in return—or, rather, lack of return—on investment; they will also be felt through accelerated climate change. However, backing climate destruction rather than clean energy is not the only market failure. We know that investor conservatism stifles innovation and has prevented Scotland’s wonderfully creative citizens from turning their ideas into action.
The failure of the market to allocate resources effectively is not just a question for investors; it is a question for all of us. We need to address that failure. The Scottish National Investment Bank must do that in two ways: first, by being open to investment in innovation, and, secondly, by linking that investment to socially useful missions.
In its first year, the bank has done a reasonably good job on the first of those approaches. It is more open to innovation, and that has underpinned the success that we have seen in just less than 12 months. The fact that the bank is mission based is very welcome, but it is in the design of the missions that there are real opportunities. There are opportunities for us to achieve the change that we need: the change that will renew our society and build a new clean economy, and the change that will deliver the support systems that future generations deserve.
Let us look at the ways in which we can develop those missions. There are three things that we need to do: to clearly identify the problems that we have, to bring the possible solutions to those problems to bear and to make those solutions work. The SNIB plays a vital role in making those solutions work by financing them. However, we need to develop our thinking about how problems are defined in the first place, how we can bring to bear the maximum social contribution to those solutions, and, in all of that, how we can better include our citizens.
It will be democratic renewal alongside the systemic changes enabled by the SNIB and others that will allow us to transform our society. That means that we need to root those missions in social processes. We recently had a Scottish climate assembly. We now need a clear process for the implementation of the recommendations of that assembly. We need to connect the social processes of democracy, policy making and implementation, and then we need to develop on-going approaches that allow our learning and mission definition to be refined and constantly renewed.
The outcomes of the climate assembly need to feed into the design of missions for the SNIB. We need to build participation into the design of missions, based on a deep understanding of both the problems and the possible solutions. We know that the perceived wisdom of the market fails us and will continue to do so. That means that we must build new, data-rich, well-informed understanding that can lead us to connect problems and solutions, with widely supported social action to allow us to meet the climate challenge, make more liveable places and support our physical and social infrastructure.
I welcome the Scottish Government’s recognition that we cannot leave our future up to the market. I welcome the work of the SNIB over the past year. However, we have so much more to do. I hope that we can find new ways to properly understand the problems that we face and the opportunities that we have. Only by defining the missions appropriately can we invest in the right things for a better future.
This debate marks a tremendous milestone: one year since the launch of the UK’s first mission-led investment bank. It has hit the ground running, amidst the most testing conditions for businesses in recent history. Since the bank’s launch, we have seen investment of approximately £160 million into a portfolio of eight projects spanning net zero, innovation and place-based solutions.
In preparing for today’s debate, I looked back on the debates on the bill that established the bank. At that time, colleagues pointed out a historical investment gap in Scotland, much of which was down to an institutional obsession with short-term returns and quick wins.
This is a globally pertinent problem. Economic decisions remain too closely aligned to private interests rather than public good. That is why the establishment of the Scottish National Investment Bank is a tremendous achievement in the history of the Scottish Parliament.
We have just finished COP26 in Glasgow. It is clear that we need long-term investment focused on sustainable development and innovation to meet the climate emergency.
I note the calls for increased capitalisation, in line with the high ambition of the bank’s aims. However, we must also remember that, although the bank is mission led, it is not philanthropic—it will see returns on those investments. It is commercially minded but publicly accountable.
The central point is the need for structural reform in the way in which we think about investment. The bank’s returns will be recycled across its investment portfolio. The initial investment does not account for investment from other sources driven by the availability of patient capital—through its aims, the bank will lever capital from elsewhere. The bank will make risk-tolerant investments, which eschew the traditional fixation on short-term profitability. The importance of patient capital to our recovery cannot be overstated.
In relation to the Opposition amendments, I advocate reciprocal patience and longer-term thinking. The initiative is in its first year and has already made a series of exciting and worthwhile investments, and it will naturally take time for the bank to reach its full potential.
We want to see the bank achieve its missions of supporting Scotland’s transition to net zero, building communities, promoting equality and harnessing innovation. The missions are aligned with our social interests, which is why investment should be in the name of the public good. Opposition parties must also consider how they would reconcile their demands that capitalisation meets ambition, especially when we do not have the full gamut of economic powers.
I will finish with a point about fair work. Fair work principles will underpin and enhance the work of the bank as an employer and a lender. I understand that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy issued a fair work direction to the bank and I urge reporting on the arrangements of that direction to be made a priority. Fair work is central to the Scottish Government’s economic strategy and we will lead by example by promoting fair work principles to employers across the country. Fundamentally, if we are serious about a just recovery from the pandemic, a mission-led investment that is founded on fair work principles is key.
It seems strange that we are debating the celebration of the anniversary of an institution that by all accounts is yet unproven, because we do not know whether it will play a key part in investing in Scotland’s future or if it will be a drain on public finances.
A number of things are unclear in relation to the Scottish National Investment Bank, the first of which is the set-up and administration costs. The Government seems to have spent £18.5 million up to the end of 2020-21, but, with the head count rising rapidly to 32 and set to rise further, we need to be careful that we do not create a bloated agency and that we instead maintain a lean efficient investment bank that delivers for the people of Scotland.
A concern that I and many others in the debate have is the duplication of investment and work that other Scottish Government agencies do. Expensive duplication cannot be a good use of resources for the Scottish taxpayer. For example, the M Squared Lasers deal that was mentioned earlier involved the provision of development capital that has been provided for years through Scottish Enterprise. In addition, £40 million was given to a fund that will be used by Places for People to invest in the provision of affordable housing. However, the Scottish Government also provided £40 million of loan support when it was launched in 2018, so both awards have involved Scottish Government funding being used to support things that the Scottish Government was already supporting. If the bank is going to do more, there will be an impact on agencies such as Scottish Enterprise.
I read the Scottish National Investment Bank’s annual report with interest and noted that the bank seemed to make a profit on the value of its investments in 2020-21, which was mentioned by Paul McLennan. That is all unrealised fair value gains, but, with those investments having no quoted price anywhere, it will take time to see whether those profits come to fruition. That is key, because we have to be cautious when it comes to estimating the value of the new bank’s investments, and ensure that we are prudent and realistic in relation to reporting on profits, which brings me to my next point, on regulation.
The Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee heard in September that the bank remains unregulated. I welcomed the assurance from the chair of the bank at the net zero committee that that issue is being looked at, but perhaps that should be a higher priority for the bank and the Scottish Government in order to ensure that the people of Scotland have confidence in the bank’s operating practices.
I welcome the ethical investment policy of the bank and support the policy to transition to net zero. During the net zero committee’s evidence session, the chief executive of the bank mentioned the Net Zero Technology Centre in Aberdeen, its expertise and the positive impact that it will have for future energy development. I hope that the bank will work closely with the centre and tap into the excellent projects that it is nurturing. Providing the capital that it requires will benefit the renewable energy sector and protect the jobs of thousands of workers in the north-east.
One thing that I have learned as a council leader over the past four years is that government at all levels cannot do everything and fund everything. We need to attract private finance, and I am not clear how the Scottish National Investment Bank will do that. I know that the cabinet secretary has touched on that, and I hope that we will hear, in her summing up, what the plan is and what progress there has been on bringing in the private sector finance that is required.
I hope that, in 10 years’ time, we can look back at the Scottish National Investment Bank and see realised profits, new technologies being helped and developed here in Scotland, and our net zero ambitions being realised by the investments that we are making. I hope that we can look back and see real jobs created by its investments. That will be the true time for celebration.
In many ways, today’s debate has been a missed opportunity. Instead of just looking back on a year of the Scottish National Investment Bank, we should have been more forward looking.
Labour has long supported the establishment of a national investment bank, but as a key part of the wider—but sadly missing—industrial strategy that we need to tackle the structural problems in the Scottish economy, including what is too often a short-term approach to investment. As Richard Leonard said, the Scottish National Investment Bank should be at the very centre of a Scottish Government industrial strategy—the very centre of a plan for good-quality jobs that people can live on. It should be driving the just transition to a net zero carbon economy, promoting economic democracy and equality, and building community wealth.
It is clear that the scale of the Government’s ambition—the funding available to the bank—is not at a level to deliver that transformational change.
We all want to be as ambitious as possible. Two billion pounds is a significant amount of money, which Willie Watt alluded to.
The member will know that, in a fixed budget, investing more requires us to take it from elsewhere. That is a challenge, which is precisely why we are trying to use the bank to leverage private finance.
The cabinet secretary is absolutely aware that the Government has borrowing powers. The problem is that the Government has cut investment in our economic agencies over the past few years, and that shows a lack of priority from the Government. The concerns over the lack of investment were echoed by the chairman of the bank himself last week, when he said that the funding that is available
“is insufficient to crack the missions”.
As Daniel Johnson highlighted, even with the limited commitment from the Government, there is uncertainty over where funding will come from. We know that financial transactions are a substantial element of the budget for not just the investment bank but our enterprise agencies—Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and South of Scotland Enterprise. The UK spending review meant that we will have a substantial reduction in the Scottish Government’s financial transaction allocation in the future. Although the finance secretary said again today that the commitment to capitalise the investment bank remains undiminished, she failed to say exactly where that funding will come from. If it is to come from the existing capital budget, there has been no commitment from the cabinet secretary that it will not simply be taken from the already stretched capital funding budget for economic development.
There is also the Scottish Government’s expectation that the bank would cover its costs itself by 2023-24. We know that the Government’s funding will not be adequate for the bank to become self-sufficient within the next three years. It was noted that the cabinet secretary said only today that she hopes that it will become self-sufficient.
With many businesses struggling to survive, never mind flourish, following the impact of the pandemic, it is more critical than ever that there is significant investment in Scotland’s business sector to deliver recovery in our economy. The Scottish National Investment Bank should play a major role in the recovery by financing Scotland’s economic development and providing the support that is needed for businesses to grow ethically and sustainably, but it needs the right finance in place in order to deliver.
That is also the case for our enterprise agencies. Despite enterprise support being more important than ever before, as Daniel Johnson rightly highlighted, Government spending is 40 per cent less in real terms than was spent in the final year of the last Labour Administration. We have to properly fund Scottish Enterprise but also repurpose it as a genuine business recovery agency, working in partnership with other agencies and Business Gateway to support our small businesses to recover and thrive.
In what is becoming, as Daniel Johnson and Jamie Halcro Johnston described, an increasingly “cluttered landscape”, we have to ensure that our agencies are better co-ordinated to deliver the one-stop shop approach to economic development that our businesses are crying out for. Murdo Fraser and Liz Smith highlighted that businesses are often unsure about who to contact for support and how the agencies co-ordinate and work together.
With COP26 leaving Glasgow, we have heard a lot from the Scottish Government about its commitment to a green transition, with claims that Scotland will be a world leader in tackling climate change. However, as Daniel Johnson highlighted, too often, the Scottish National Party’s record on green jobs is spin over substance. It has failed to meet its own target, and delivered just 21,000 of the 130,000 jobs that were promised by 2020.
We need a Scottish National Investment Bank that is worthy of its name. It must be properly funded, work in partnership with all our agencies, deliver a one-stop shop for business and focus on economic recovery. That means restructuring and growing the bank so that it can provide seed funding for new ideas, offer investment for capital-for-good projects and support businesses to transition towards greener and more digital futures, all while creating jobs and supporting good work practices.
From what we have heard today, it is clear that the Scottish National Investment Bank is a positive initiative, but it still lacks ambition from the Government to deliver. Scottish Labour has long said that the SNP’s proposals for the bank do not go nearly far enough in establishing a financial institution that will drive Scotland’s economic recovery and a just transition. One year on, and that has not changed.
It has been a short but useful debate that has teased out some of the issues around the
Kate Forbes’s motion invites us to celebrate the bank’s first anniversary. What we have heard in the debate makes it clear that it is probably too early to be celebrating the success of the bank—in a few years, we will know whether the bank has been a success. At that point, we will know what level of return has been seen on investments, and we will judge the bank’s success. At the moment, we are looking at a work in progress.
At the start of the debate, Liz Smith set out that the Scottish Conservatives supported the formation of the Scottish National Investment Bank, but not without concerns about how it might function in practice. It is apparent that there is a need for clarity on the bank’s role. If there is one thing that has come out of the debate from all sides, it is that the exact purpose of the bank is not well understood.
From around the chamber, we have heard different political perspectives, including from Richard Leonard, Maggie Chapman and Douglas Lumsden, and different views about what the SNIB should be doing. As Colin Smyth referenced, we also know that, in the business community, people are not clear about what exactly the SNIB is there to do, and when it is able to support them; nor are we clear about the bank’s relationship with the enterprise agency network.
Colin Smyth mentioned the dramatic reductions in the Scottish Enterprise budget over the past decade. Many people in the business community whom I speak to are not clear what role Scottish Enterprise is now expected to fulfil compared with where it was perhaps a decade ago. The relationship between Scottish Enterprise and the SNIB is also unclear. Therefore, the need for clarity, both internally and externally for those in business who might seek support from the bank, is apparent.
A number of members, including Daniel Johnson, mentioned the issue of the availability of funds. The £2 billion sounds like a chunky number, but it is over 10 years, so that is £200 million a year. Willie Watt, the bank’s chairman, said that the sums are insufficient. The hope is that additional sums will be levered in externally from the private sector.
There is a key issue around the question of risk. The Scottish National Investment Bank has a role only if it is there to address market failure and support enterprises that cannot get finance from the private sector. Inevitably, that means that a higher level of risk might be attached. As the cabinet secretary has said, some failures with investments will be inevitable. Of course, we hope that there will not be too many, when we are dealing with public funds.
Michelle Thomson makes a fair point. I was going to reference the comments that she made about the relationship between the SNIB and Scottish Enterprise and how those two bodies’ approaches to risk might differ. We would welcome more clarity on exactly what investment Scottish Enterprise might deem appropriate to support, what SNIB might deem appropriate to support and how those might differ.
I will address the issue of operational independence, which Kate Forbes raised at the start. We need to be clear that the bank cannot be directed by ministers. It will not be a success if that is the case. Over the past year and longer, I have heard calls in the chamber from different members about why the National Investment Bank must step in and support a particular enterprise that is failing. That is not what the body is for. If that is the vision that people have for it, it will not be a success. We need to be clear about that. Ministers have the right to set a strategic direction for the bank but not to seek to micromanage and direct particular investments.
We wish the Scottish National Investment Bank well. Time will tell how successful it will be. It is early days to be celebrating its success, but we might be able to do so in time. It is clear from members from all parties who have spoken in the debate that greater clarity about the bank’s purpose would be welcome, not least to people in the business community so that they understand exactly what the bank is for and how it might be able to help them. That point is well made in the amendment in Liz Smith’s name, which I am pleased to support.
I will endeavour to reply to many of the comments that have been made. I will go through members in order, because a number of good points were made.
Liz Smith started by talking about the need for performance metrics that Parliament and ministers alike can analyse and scrutinise. That is an important point. The audited accounts set out the balanced scorecard. The unique point about the bank is that it has to deliver returns—we are open and honest about the fact that we expect it to do that on a commercial basis—but it also has a commitment to deliver on social and environmental outcomes. The accounts were laid in Parliament in September and they lay out the balanced scorecard already.
There could be a requirement to develop more KPIs, but Murdo Fraser made an important point in that regard. As much as I am keen to celebrate the efforts of the independent bank—it is not about ministers claiming credit but about recognising the work and labour of the bank’s team—the returns will be seen over the next few years. We expect returns to be delivered over the long term, and perhaps over a longer term than any of our careers in the Parliament. That is all part of the bank’s ambition. We need to be careful about KPIs. We need to ensure that the bank delivers on its objectives but analysing its performance too quickly is also a problem, if politicians are looking to claim credit.
Daniel Johnson made a number of points. I respectfully suggest that Labour’s amendment and comments are significantly at odds with what I hear from external stakeholders and what the bank hears as well. From those comments, I am not sure that Labour fully understands the bank’s purpose or operational independence. However, Daniel Johnson is free to criticise the Scottish Government for the wider context. It is right that the bank sits within a wider policy framework. The bank is not about helping businesses to weather the storms; it is about making strategic investments in businesses that deliver a commercial return.
That might be precisely the point—the bank is adding value to the landscape.
Michelle Thomson talked about the need to be ambitious, and I agree. I heard Willie Watt’s comments—he was sitting next to me when he made them—so I know that they have been misquoted a number of times today. On the figure of £2 billion, he specifically said that he was “humbled” by the amount of public funding that was going into the bank. It is a significant amount of money. He also said that ambition requires us to leverage in as much private finance as possible.
Over the past two weeks, we have heard extensively about the amount of private finance. Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero—GFANZ—has secured $130 trillion of private finance that needs to find a home in investments that can not only deliver commercial returns but ensure that we meet the global net zero requirements. I want to ensure that we secure as much of that funding in Scotland as possible. The bank can help to do that, and it is already working with the private sector.
Jamie Halcro Johnston made quite a good point about taking a decentralised approach. Just yesterday, I opened one of the 12 centres that are associated with the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland. One of those centres is in Fort William and is part of a £170 million investment. That decentralised approach is to support businesses to innovate and to ensure that they have access to support on a local basis.
Richard Leonard made one comment with which I agree: that we cannot end up with a result in which risk is socialised and reward is privatised. That is absolutely spot on. The bank has a duty to ensure that it is not just making investments, but making investments that deliver returns that can be reinvested, so that it becomes operationally self-sufficient. I will leave Richard Leonard’s other comments for now, but I am pleased to say that there was one comment with which I agreed.
Douglas Lumsden talked about the need to be prudent and realistic about our finances, which is true. However, there must be an element of risk associated with the approach. The whole point is that the bank should not replace private sector investment; the bank should add value and perhaps de-risk investment. If an organisation or business can secure private sector investment, the bank should be looking for ways in which it can add value elsewhere.
The bank is making progress on becoming FCA accredited. This debate is about reflecting the fact that, in its first year the bank, as a start-up, has grown its operational capacity; it has made £120 million-worth of fantastic investments, to meet the objectives; and it is progressing with things such as FCA accreditation, so that it is able to expand, crowd in investors and perhaps borrow on the basis of its balance sheet.
I am out of time. Members have made a number of comments that are worthy of further discussion. I hope that we can have that discussion on a cross-party basis. Like Murdo Fraser, I end by saying that this is not about Government stepping in to micromanage the bank. The bank is operationally independent. We, in the Parliament, need to have a mature discussion about what value the bank is adding. We also need to have a more mature discussion about risk, because that is integral to what the bank is seeking to do.
Before I move on to the next item of business, I remind members of the Covid-related measures that are in place and that face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and across the Holyrood campus.