THE chief executive of Scottish Enterprise has set out a new vision to help firms grow, export, recruit and attract foreign direct investment in the face of the challenge brought by Brexit.

Steve Dunlop, who succeeded Lena Wilson at the publicly-funded economic development agency in May 2018, briefed journalists on the three-year strategic framework alongside new chairman Lord Smith of Kelvin in Glasgow yesterday.

It will involve ramping up the agency’s network of GlobalScots from the current 700 to an initial 2,500 to help grow Scottish firms around the world, forge closer partnerships local development agencies, and build on its existing links with universities and colleges.

The agency also said it will create a single portal through which it aims to make its business advice available to a much larger number of businesses across Scotland.

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The strategy arrives as Scottish firms face the prospect of significant skills shortages because of Brexit.

Asked how Scottish Enterprise can help businesses in Scotland attract skills should Brexit spell an end to the free movement of people between the UK and the EU, he said the agency plans to expand its Talent Scotland unit, which connects people to opportunities. “We need to really build that up, and we need to do that in concert with the Scottish Government,” he said. “We don’t have, in Scotland, access to all the levers over immigration.

“However, we can articulate what Scotland has to offer, around the advantages of working in Scotland, around higher levels of companies who offer living wage and fair work principles. So we should be unashamedly articulating what is different about Scotland.”

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Mr Dunlop pointed to the impact made by the Scotland Is Now campaign, which launched in March in advance of the initial Brexit date of March 29 and displayed “our love affair with Europe”. It is estimated that around half the populations of France, Germany and Spain saw the campaign film produced by Creative Scotland.

He added: “That was hugely impactful about saying Scotland is open for business. It was an emotional, as well as an economic argument, and it worked. The impact of that campaign was enormous.”

Mr Dunlop said the agency had agreed with the Scottish Government to create a single portal with the effect of “democratising access” to its support, in a bid to reach a broader range of businesses across Scotland. This will involve working more closely with other bodies such as local authorities, its Business Gateways network and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. “No longer do you have to be a business of a particular scale – you can get access to advice and information, and in the not too distant future you will get access to financial product through that portal as well,” he added.

“That will create a data set for us and insights into the business base for Scotland that we will then begin to have sophisticated wrap around support[for].

“We will go hunting and gathering as an organisation to look for talent. We will not be passive in waiting for people to come to us looking for advice. That is important because we need to stimulate demand in our business base for investment.”

Mr Dunlop explained that the current Scottish Investment Bank, part of Scottish Enterprise, will eventually become part of the new Scottish National Investment Bank. The agency is currently working on a transition plan, which will flesh out the details of the integration, including the transfer of staff, clients and the current SIB book.

Meanwhile, Lord Smith said it was “time to give something back” when asked why he agreed to join the agency. The Glasgow-born peer, 75, recently stepped down as the chairman of Alliance Trust and ended his involvement with Clyde Gateway, where he was encouraged by the impact of its regeneration work.

“When I saw the strategy here, I thought this is something I can identify with,” Lord Smith said.