‘Confused’ development agencies holding back economic growth, says ex-PM Brown

Gordon Brown called for better co-operation between the Scottish and UK governments (Victoria Jones/PA)
Gordon Brown called for better co-operation between the Scottish and UK governments (Victoria Jones/PA)

The “confused” landscape of development agencies is holding back Scotland’s economy, former prime minister Gordon Brown has said.

The ex-Labour leader called for more co-operation between the Scottish and UK governments and their agencies.

He made the comments during a conference in Edinburgh hosted by Our Scottish Future, the think tank he founded.

It published a wide-ranging report on increasing economic growth in Scotland, saying new industrial strategies could create 300,000 jobs in a “decade of delivery”.

In a keynote speech to the conference, Mr Brown said: “I think what’s happened over the last 10, 15 years (in Scotland) is a lack of co-operation.”

He spoke in front of a slide of the various skills and development agencies, saying they are “multiplying themselves to deal with a whole series of economic issues”.

These include Scottish Enterprise, the regional development agencies and the Scottish National Investment Bank.

Many of these have roles which are replicated at a UK level, he said, claiming £4 billion could be better spent if the Scottish and UK governments worked together.

He said: “It’s no wonder that businesses are confused.

“If you look at what needs to be done, we need co-ordination and co-operation, we need it at the regional as well as the national level.”

Mr Brown said the multitude of agencies is “holding back the Scottish economy, because we don’t have people sitting around the table looking at these same issues in a way that uses funds to best effect”.

Gordon Brown comments
Gordon Brown was prime minister between 2007 and 2010 (Jane Barlow/PA)

Mr Brown said the “prize” for getting this right would be lifting 100,000 people out of low-paid jobs and Universal Credit into better-paid work.

He added: “If we have an innovation nation, we can have job creation, and we can have poverty eradication.”

The report urges the creation of an industrial strategy for Scotland, which would focus on green manufacturing, digital and creative, business services, precision medicine and advanced manufacturing, and premium agrifoods and alcohol.

The think tank calls for five physical sites to be set up – known as “growth zones” – in Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen and two in the greater Glasgow area, which would be governed jointly by the local council and the Scottish and UK governments where one or more of the sectors could be located.

Employers within the zones should be offered “conditional tax rebates” by the Treasury if they meet “demanding employment creation, training targets and/or export revenue targets”.

In these industries, the report said, 120,000 jobs would be created, with 180,000 more in the supply chain.

In his foreword to the report, Mr Brown – who served in Number 10 between 2007 and 2010 – said Scotland is “stuck in a low growth rut”.

Wellbeing Economy Secretary Neil Gray said: “The Scottish Government is delivering economic and social policy success in a range of areas within our current powers.

“These include investing to drive the development of the hydrogen sector and carbon capture and storage, and supporting a just transition to net zero.

“We already developing a Green Industrial Strategy to maximise the economic opportunity of our green energy potential.

“On social justice, the Scottish Child Payment has been described as a ‘game changer’ and contributed to lifting an estimated 90,000 children out of poverty.

“However, as part of the UK our powers are limited and too often hampered by Westminster decisions like Brexit, a migration system that fails Scotland and austerity which continues to starve public finances and the wider economy.

“Only with independence can Scotland match the economic success of our European neighbours, enabling us to strengthen public services, and improve environmental sustainability.”