McConnell has 'failed' to deliver economic growth for Scotland

Key quote "If you look at our business start-up rate and our economic performance, it doesn't seem to be improving comparatively. The performance has not been what we all hoped for, if you look at the figures." - David Watt

Story in full JACK McConnell's flagship policy of growing the Scottish economy has failed, according to a damning verdict from one of the country's leading business experts.

David Watt, director of the Institute of Directors in Scotland, told The Scotsman that the First Minister had not delivered the growth in the economy he promised at the last election.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In a detailed series of verdicts on the Scottish Executive and the parliament, Mr Watt warned that the majority of ministers did not do anything to help develop Scotland's economy, and that few MSPs had any idea of the crippling impact the regulations they passed had on Scottish business.

He said there was a lack of "joined up government", with only the enterprise and transport departments apparently aware that policies should be tailored to help grow the economy.

Mr Watt said: "We do need leadership from the First Minister and from his Cabinet colleagues. The business community will be looking for hard facts and figures that we have moved forward.

"If you look at our business start-up rate and our economic performance, it doesn't seem to be improving comparatively. The performance has not been what we all hoped for, if you look at the figures." Asked whether, if there was an election today, Mr McConnell would have failed in his top priority of growing the Scottish economy, Mr Watt replied: "Yes, he would fail".

He continued: "There has not been any improvement in the top priority in comparative terms with the rest of the UK. There is much more we would like to see done."

Mr Watt's intervention in the debate over the progress of the Scottish Executive towards its goal of growing the Scottish economy will be crucial in setting the political agenda.

It comes just 12 months ahead of the campaign for the 2007 election, when Mr McConnell will be judged on his public pledge to make growing the Scottish economy his number one priority.

The First Minister has had three years since he made that promise to deliver real and tangible improvements in the economy, and although he still has a year yet to make good on that pledge, Mr Watt was adamant that Mr McConnell's record to date had been woeful.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

His comments follow the publication of a major piece of research, ten days ago, which showed that the true, poor, state of Scotland's economic growth was being hidden by the expansion of the public sector.

David Bell, professor of economics at Stirling University, calculated the private sector in Scotland had been "stuck in the slow lane" - growing by only 12.8 per cent since 1998 - yet the public sector had increased by 19.3 per cent over the same period.

A spokesman for Mr McConnell derided Mr Watt's comments yesterday as "complete and utter rubbish". He said: "The Scottish economy has grown steadily since the partnership agreement was signed (in 2003). We have placed record resources into higher education and transport, both of which were identified by business as key priorities."

The spokesman stressed the Fresh Talent initiative, which is designed to attract migrants from outside Europe to Scotland, and the partnership with big business to tackle the problem of young people who are not in work, education or training.

But Mr Watt, who leads an organisation with 2,500 directors on its books, was clear that his views were shared by many others in the business community.

He said: "It would be interesting to see an audit of parliamentary bills and see which ones have a real economic focus. Of the 19 (this session) I think maybe three have a real impact on business - planning is one.

"We would like to see government departments look at the potential impact of pieces of legislation on business. I am not sure the legislation has really measured up."

Mr Watt said that for every business employing 100 people, about ten of those were involved in administration and form-filling, complying with all the regulations imposed by local councils, by Holyrood, Westminster and Brussels.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"I am absolutely sure MSPs and ministers don't realise that," he said.

He was also damning about the Executive's tendency to create "initiatives" to tackle every problem.

Mr Watt said: "We have got initiative-itis in Scotland. If we have an issue, lets have an initiative, that will solve it - no it won't."

And he added: "I think it has got to be visionary from everybody around the Cabinet table - and it should not just be a question of political expediency or short-term initiatives."