NICOLA Sturgeon came under fire last night over her pledge to ensure gender equality in Scotland’s public sector after it emerged that a flagship body set up by the SNP to deliver major building projects has no women serving on the boards of its five “hub companies”.
Sturgeon, who launched the SNP’s Women’s Pledge yesterday which includes a “challenge to organisations across the UK to commit to 50:50 representation on their boards by 2020”, has been accused of letting women down by failing to address the issue of the all-male boards at the Scottish Futures Trust (SFT) companies.
The SFT was established in 2008 by the Scottish Government to deliver infrastructure investment projects, including school and hospital building programmes with a value of more than £2 billion in the first ten years. The five hub companies, created by SFT to cover different regions and manage projects signed off by the Scottish Government, have 24 board members in 26 posts, all of whom are men.
Although Sturgeon had no role in the appointment of board members, governance of the SFT fell within her remit when she was minister for infrastructure between 2012 and 2014. Last week she told the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) that the SNP was “leading by example” in pushing for gender equality and that she, as First Minister, was spearheading a “major drive” to encourage better female representation on public and private sector boards.
Addressing a rally in Glasgow yesterday, Sturgeon said: “Today is the day we put women at the heart of this general election campaign. We will put women and gender equality right at the heart of the Westminster agenda. If you are good enough, if you work hard enough, no glass ceiling should hold you back.”
Last night, Scottish Labour deputy leader Kezia Dugdale said Scotland’s first female First Minister had let women down by failing to ensure “women get a seat at the table” in the boardrooms of Scottish Government public corporation.
“The First Minister claims to be leading by example, but the harsh truth is this; gender equality isn’t a photo-op on the stairs of Bute House,” Dugdale said. “It’s the struggle of thousands of women in Scotland, and millions of women across the world, to take their rightful place in society and make sure our voices are heard.
“On this simple test, on making sure women get a seat at the table, the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon have a lot of work still to do.”
Sturgeon has put gender equality at the heart of her agenda since taking over the SNP leadership from Alex Salmond. She has said she backs “quotas” to achieve boardroom gender balance. She has also challenged all public, private and third-sector bodies to commit to achieving a 50-50 split on boards by 2020.
The First Minister has also challenged the UK government on the issue of female representation on public bodies, suggesting it has allowed them to remain male dominated.
She recently said: “The SNP will push for action on equality at UK level – calling for UK Government action to ensure 50 per cent female representation on public boards and work with the private sector to encourage more female representation at senior level.”
Last week, she told the STUC: “On gender equality, the Scottish Government is leading by example – my Cabinet is one of only three in the developed world to have a 50/50 gender split. But we’re also launching a major drive – called 50/50 by 2020 – to encourage gender equality in public, private and third sector boardrooms.”
Dugdale said Sturgeon had to accept responsibility for the all-male appointees to the SFT hub companies made during the SNP’s time in power.
“Nicola Sturgeon cannot plead ignorance. It is under her watch as Deputy First Minister, Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and now as First Minister that the Scottish Future’s Trust’s regional hubs failed to hire a single woman as a director,” she said.
“Just last Tuesday Nicola Sturgeon told the STUC that on Women’s equality her government is ‘leading by example’. But now it emerges that the Scottish Futures Trust’s five regional hub companies don’t have a single woman as a director. This isn’t an accident, this company was set up by the Scottish Government and its work is overseen by SNP ministers in Edinburgh.”
Tory MSP Alex Johnstone said: “This is a clear case of hypocrisy from the SNP, which says one thing in public and does another in private.
“These appointments were all made on the SNP’s watch and it suggests the party is unable to match its rhetoric with action. Nicola Sturgeon has clearly failed to live up to her own pledge on improving female representation.”
Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said: “The SNP talk a great game when it comes to equality, but when the power is in their hands to make a difference they often fall short. The Scottish Futures Trust should be named the Scottish stuck in the past trust.”
The Scottish Govenment launched the SFT In September 2008 under the chairmanship of Sir Angus Grossart to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of infrastructure investment, planning and delivery in Scotland.
The organisation’s website states that it helped secure £139m in savings and benefits during 2013-2014. The body has delivered projects such as the Scotland’s Schools for the Future programme, with 18 schools completed and open, and 16 schools being built.
Last night, the Scottish Government refused to supply a comment from the First Minister on the issue when asked to do so by Scotland on Sunday.
However, a government spokesman said: “The most effective boards have a breadth of talent and a rich diversity of insight and contribution.
“The First Minister has made clear her commitment to 50:50 and addressing inequality is a key focus of her administration. Where she does have powers to act, the First Minister is leading by example, most notably by appointing a 50:50 cabinet – one of only three in the world.”
The SFT failed to respond to a request for a comment.