29/09/2020

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Sturgeon adviser hits out at “career politicians” and a lack of business nous in SNP Government

Jim McColl, chief executive of Clyde Blowers, said more private sector experience would be helpful...
Jim McColl, chief executive of Clyde Blowers, said more private sector experience would be helpful - WPA Pool/Getty
Jim McColl, chief executive of Clyde Blowers, said more private sector experience would be helpful – WPA Pool/Getty

Nicola Sturgeon’s government lacks an understanding of business, one of her most high-profile economic advisers has said.

Jim McColl, one of Scotland’s most successful businessmen, also said that there are too many “career politicians” who lack real-world experience in the UK as he warned that the economy could take up to a decade to recover from Covid-19.

The chief executive of Clyde Blowers, who sits on Ms Sturgeon’s Council of Economic Advisers, said that more needed to be done by administrations in London and Edinburgh to support firms through the pandemic but warned “handouts” were not a long-term solution.

He made his comments shortly before it was announced that the number of jobs being supported north of the border by the Treasury’s furlough and self-employed income support schemes had risen to almost 900,000.

Asked about claims that ministers in both the UK and Scottish governments lacked an understanding of businesses, Mr McColl said he believed “much of that criticism is valid.”

He told the BBC: “Maybe more so in Scotland, there’s not the same background in business in the Scottish Government, you have one or two in Westminster, there is maybe more of an understanding there. So it could so with more input from the private sector I think.

“There are too many career politicians now. If you look way back in the past, people would come from doing a job, or the private sector, into politics. I do think we need to widen it in some way.”

Business figures have complained that they have struggled to get an audience with SNP ministers during the pandemic, and that the crisis has exposed a lack of understanding of the private sector.

Fiona Hyslop, the economy secretary, worked in sales and marketing for Standard Life before she won a Scottish Parliament seat in 1999, while Kate Forbes, the finance secretary, worked as an accountant before she was elected to Holyrood in 2016, aged 26.

Mr McColl warned that the economic fallout from Covid-19 in Scotland would be “huge” in Scotland, adding that he believed half of the country’s small and medium sized businesses could be lost without support.

He predicted it would take seven years to a decade to recover to pre-pandemic levels, but called for “imaginative” schemes and long-term loans rather than government bailouts.

“I don’t think we need to be handing out grants or subsidising them,” he said. “There’s a lot of money being handed out by Westminster but I don’t think that’s a sustainable way forward. 

“I think what they do need is long-term loans, maybe 25 year loans, which they can repay over a period of time.”

The UK Government said yesterday that the number of people in Scotland on furlough was 736,500 – a rise of more than 100,000 since the end of May. Meanwhile, an additional 155,000 people in Scotland have been helped by the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. 

Asked about Mr McColl’s comments at her daily briefing, Ms Sturgeon said her government had “a range of expertise”.

She added: “We work very closely with business, we’re looking to deepen our business engagement and SMEs, like businesses of all shapes and sizes face a really difficult path ahead. Over the next months, health and jobs will be the twin focus of this government as we navigate the path to recovery.”