Leader comment: Beware governments buying businesses

The Scottish Government is  ready to look into the prospect of taking over vital North Sea platforms and pipelines to help support the industry through the current price slump. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

The Scottish Government is ready to look into the prospect of taking over vital North Sea platforms and pipelines to help support the industry through the current price slump. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

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It is stated regularly in these columns that the economy is likely to get worse following Brexit, and that the indicators show now, as we wait for the full import of leaving the EU to bite, that the Scottish economy is lagging behind the UK economy.

So it is right and proper that the Scottish Government looks for ways that it can best help the economy grow. But on the whole that should mean creating the environment that allows business to grow in terms of skills, taxation and regulation, among other areas – actually investing in parts of industry is controversial, so the revelation that the Scottish Government is ready to look into the prospect of taking over vital North Sea platforms and pipelines to help support the industry through the current price slump deserves examination.

It does not have a good record in intervening in industry. In November 2013 the Scottish Government bought the loss-making Prestwick Airport for £1 from its New Zealand owners. In October 2016 it was reported that the airport was costing taxpayers about £750,000 a month, with Scottish Government loans to the business standing at more than £21 million. Losses reached almost £10m then.

So there are some economic forays that are just not the business of government.

But the North Sea has been hit hard by the downturn, and if the government is stepping in to keep vital oil flow open and stopping premature decommissioning hitting still viable oil interests, then it is right to be having discussion and seeing what action it might be able to take. But wholesale buying of businesses and paying for the operating of them, á là Prestwick, has to be resisted.

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