IT was created almost three decades ago in an effort to boost economic development.

Now the jobs quango Scottish Enterprise has vowed to go back to its roots as part of a major overhaul aimed at sharing wealth and fighting inequality.

Bosses insist they will renew their focus on creating “quality jobs that help reduce poverty and support businesses, communities and families across Scotland”.

This will include making job-related grants contingent on fair work practices, such as payment of the £9-an-hour real living wage.

Chief executive Steve Dunlop insisted Scottish Enterprise “must be at the heart” of efforts to boost wellbeing, as well as driving economic growth.

In his foreword to a new three-year strategy document, he said: “To do that we need to transform the way we work and to remind ourselves why we were created almost three decades ago: to develop Scotland’s economy and create and protect jobs.

“In recent years, we have focused more on supporting a segmented group of businesses and favoured sectors, but we now need an emphatic shift back towards our original purpose and to make sure we are playing our part to deliver for the whole economy; working with business to create more, quality jobs that help reduce poverty and support businesses, communities and families across Scotland.”

He said Scotland continued to struggle “with an uneven spread of economic success across its diverse communities”, adding: “Deprivation and affluence are all too often uneasy bedfellows; persistent, regional pockets of low employment and too few businesses realising their growth potential are damaging wellbeing in parts of Scotland.

“In fact, despite all of Scotland’s strengths and comparative advantages, it is ranked 21st out of the 36 OECD countries when it comes to income equality.

“These challenges, alongside a complex global economy, the unknown impact of Brexit, and the impact of automation and artificial intelligence, mean that more of the same economic development will, at best, deliver more of the same economic outcomes.

“And inequalities will remain. This means the time is right for a new approach. An approach that taps into Scotland’s past to build a brighter future today.”

Scottish Enterprise’s new strategy – which comes after a year-long review led by Mr Dunlop, who took the helm last year – commits to investing more in “places where it can make a significant difference to communities and reduce geographical economic inequalities”.

Over the coming year, it aims to create or safeguard up to 10,500 jobs paying at least the real living wage, support international exports worth up to £1.5 billion and unlock up to £550 million in research and development and capital investment.

It said Scotland needs 70,000 more businesses, 7,000 more exporters and 100 more high-growth businesses to match the best-performing UK regions.

It came as Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Enterprise’s partner agency, also launched its three-year strategy with a focus on boosting productivity, equality, wellbeing and sustainability. This includes a commitment to grow the working age population by attracting more young people, as well as increasing incomes and embracing measures such as the real living wage.

Since its creation in 1991, Scottish Enterprise has helped drive key developments such as the regeneration of Clyde Waterfront and the £400m Edinburgh BioQuarter, a leading campus for life sciences.

However, it has recently faced criticism for handing public money to companies involved in the weapons industry.

Also, Highlands and Islands Enterprise was accused of “institutionalised arrogance” last year over its handling of the struggling Cairngorm ski resort.

Over the next year, the agencies will invest more than £409m delivering a range of projects and initiatives.

Grahame Smith, general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), welcomed the new strategy.

He said: “The STUC has long argued that creating quality employment should the building block of economic policy. It is neither right nor productive for economies to be built on high levels of inequality.”

Economy Secretary Derek Mackay said: “This new strategic framework is very welcome, particularly in its aim to increase sustainable and inclusive economic growth.”

Analysis Peter Kane: Initiative offers a new hope

Hopefully this is not a re-packaging of measures that HIE has already been carrying out for many years. On the face of it, this three-year plan, as part of the strategic proposals for Scotland, is a welcome commitment to stimulate economic growth, particularly in rural areas.

In recent years it has been moving in the right direction trying to improve and develop the economy of the Highlands and Islands.

The confirmation that HIE and Scottish Enterprise will invest more than £409 million delivering projects and initiatives is a very positive undertaking that brings certainty. 

Brexit and other unpredictable and potentially harmful world events are increasingly costing jobs and have led to business closures and investment being postponed or scrapped altogether.

This atmosphere has prompted a confidence drop, along with recruitment and exports, while the lack of clarity has put many businesses, including small enterprises that rely on workers from EU countries, in a state
of limbo. 

Therefore, this drive by HIE to support the growth of communities, attract more economically active people to the area and form partnerships to encourage prosperity offers new hope at a difficult time. 

It can build on a platform that has led to the number of young people wishing to stay in the region rising and the prospect of jobs being created in growing industries such as renewables and space.

In the past help has perhaps been slow in reaching small and medium-sized companies in the Highlands and Islands, but hopefully this new approach will deliver what it promises and will make a real difference to peoples’ futures.
There is real grounds for optimism and confidence.

Peter Kane is partner of communications firm System2 and Inverness based Leader Think Tank.