Report urges ‘revolution’ in approach to Scots economy

Dan Macdonald of Macdonald Estates PLC. Picture: Neil Hanna
Dan Macdonald of Macdonald Estates PLC. Picture: Neil Hanna
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A GROUP of Scottish business leaders are rallying around an initiative to be launched this week that will demand greater collaboration with government in policymaking.

In what is being billed as nothing short of a “revolution” in the process of government, senior business figures are backing a 300-page report detailing new ways of developing a national economic strategy.

A team of economists were commissioned by property company boss Dan Macdonald, who has spent 15 months working on his project, dubbed N-56, the latitude on which Scotland sits.

The report, Scotland Means Business, will be published on Tuesday or Wednesday, when the identities of signatories to its recommendations will also be revealed.

It will urge Scotland to emulate best practice in Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore, which are among the countries studied by the researchers who found that greater collaboration and long-term planning led directly to improved business performance.

Macdonald, a known business supporter of the Yes campaign for Scottish independence, stressed in an exclusive interview with Scotland on Sunday that N-56 and the report are not linked to the constitutional debate.

He said he is moving on from publicly speaking about the benefits of independence to looking at what happens after the referendum.

“My worry is that on 19 September [the day after the poll] Scotland becomes polarised and that there is too much triumphalism from one side and dejection on the other. We have to get past that. We ­cannot have Scotland divided,” he said.

He argues that the economic world has changed significantly but policymaking remains trapped in an old way of thinking and operating, and that such constraints make progress difficult.

He wants to see business taking a more hands-on and earlier role in key decisions and, in particular, to play a greater part in forming a long-term outlook and direction for the economy.

“I am not decrying what the chambers and SCDI and others do, but they are paid to do whatever their members want and we need a process that goes beyond that.”

He said there was a need to build “trust” between various disciplines and he acknowledged that progress had been made – not least between colleges, particularly in research areas, and business in commercialising science and technology.

“If it can happen between academia and business it can happen in other ways. I really do not think government has thought this way at all. We need business people working alongside policymakers to get the business plan right,” he said.

“People may say I am naive in trying to get business and government together. I can’t see for the life of me why we cannot.

“We need to demolish the silos and ivory towers and work together. We need to share information. There needs to be a better understanding of what is needed to make the economy work and make it more successful.

“Business leaders have a responsibility for participating alongside government in developing a new strategic economic development plan for the country.”

Among the economists were teams from Biggar Economics near Edinburgh, Capital Economics in London, and Damvad in Scandinavia. Their report is expected to be presented to government ministers for consideration.