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Shareholding to be seen to be beyond reproach

It is all just getting a little tiresome.Two years ago, Scottish Enterprise (SE) courted controversy when its chief executive Lena Wilson, remunerated to the tune of £200,000 (£60,000 more than the First Minister), was allowed to take up a non-executive directorship one day a month at public company Intertek, for which she was paid another £60,000.

The appointment was defended by the body's chairman Crawford Gillies as "excellent news", but it did not seem that way to many observers, who were unimpressed that this public servant had been allowed to take on a private sector role for personal gain when she was not only very well paid already but when public sector staff all over Scotland were facing pay freezes.

Now it has emerged that Mr Gillies has shares in companies that have received millions of pounds in investment from Scottish Enterprise. The SE register of interests, while mentioning his ownership of stock in the companies, neglects to mention that the firms in question have accessed so much in public money since Mr Gillies joined the agency.

The connection is troubling. Scottish Enterprise is not a private company; like any other publicly funded agency, there is a public expectation that those working for it will maintain the strictest delineation between their work on behalf of the taxpayer and any question of personal gain.

Mr Gillies has not hidden his shareholdings in the companies that have received public money; he has just not quite spelled them out. It is fair to expect those working for public bodies to be explicit about the detail of such relationships rather than leave it up to those who wish to know more to make further inquiries until they have pieced it all together. Full and unfettered disclosure is for the benefit of Scottish Enterprise itself. Any perceived lack of transparency undermines trust.

After the MSP Jim Mather became an enterprise minister in 2007, he said he would put his shares, worth £350,000, into a blind trust (run by independent brokers who do not disclose their investment decisions) to avoid any suggestion of a conflict of interest, though later he said he would not trade them while a minister.

Scottish Enterprise insists that Mr Gillies is not involved in any investment decisions involving the companies in which he has a stake, which is reassuring, but, to put paid to public concern, he too should consider placing his shares in a blind trust and should buy no more in companies in which SE invests while he remains in his post. He already had most of the shareholdings before he took up his post but acquired some during his time as chairman.

Crawford Gillies has been a good SE chairman and, as a member of the board at Standard Life and soon-to-be head of the remuneration committee at Barclays, understands intimately the importance of public trust in strong corporate governance. After the Lena Wilson controversy, Scottish Enterprise can and should do everything it can to reassure the sceptical taxpayer that it is beyond reproach.

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