by Kim McAllister


“I am chilled by the state of the Scottish economy,” Tim Allan told the delegates at the WeDo Scotland conference on Thursday.

Speaking as a businessman in his own right, the chair of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce added that we need to stop the political combat and focus on what businesses need.

“We want our politicians to help us with the big issues we’re facing. There are not enough skilled workers and we cannot have an inclusive economy without 4G and 5G coverage all over the country,” he said.

The panel debate was one of the highlights of the conference, which included presentations from David Thomson of DC Thomson and Andy Tait of Greenacres Group, as well as workshops and networking.

Panelists included Malcolm Cannon, chief executive of the Institute of Directors; Kerry Sharp, chief executive of the Scottish Investment Bank; Prof John Anderson from Strathclyde Business School, Anna Christopherson from Boda bars and Marcus Pickering from Pickering’s Gin.

Topics ranged from the support available to entrepreneurs and the availability of talent to Brexit and Brand Scotland.

“We have a huge amount of entrepreneurs in Scotland but the support network is very confusing for us,” said Marcus Pickering. “Which direction do you go and which is the best option for you? Scottish businesses need more confidence – Brand Scotland is incredible. We don’t see it from the inside, but from the outside it’s very powerful.”

Kerry Sharp was the only panelist willing to bring up Brexit, in the context of SMEs being better prepared.

“Brexit is one of the shocks in our economy, we’re doing a lot of work on preparing businesses, resilience is essential,” she said.

A recurring theme at the conference was the importance of collaboration. Tim Allen pointed out that for a small economy, Scotland has to work with everything at its disposal and look outwards as much as possible.

“We need to be honest,” he said. “We need to understand the importance of careers rather than jobs. The V&A in Dundee is a living wage employer, but there are a number of industries that need to be made more attractive: care, farming and leisure to name a few. I think we all need to accept, as consumers, that sometimes we need to pay a bit more to support these businesses.”

Malcolm Cannon, from the IoD, echoed this sentiment, stating that more recognition should go to living wage employers.

“It’s funny, leaders think nothing of training their staff but are much more reluctant to invest in themselves,” he said.

Conference organiser Belinda Roberts said that the conference aimed to reflect the best of Scottish business.

“We wanted to inspire and explore opportunities for Scottish companies to scale,” she said.

“I reached out to my own network in order to present the delegates with speakers who they were unlikely to have heard before. David Thomson is one of the best examples of an iconic Scottish family business which has grown and diversified as market changes have dictated. The musical theatre sector has always had a shroud of mystery yet is incredibly similar to multiple industry sectors so I thought it would be fun to hear from Colin Ingram who has produced West End and Broadway hit musicals and is from Glasgow. Colin has to go out and raise the funds for the shows so his experiences working with venture capitalists globally are highly relevant.”

Belinda is already planning next year’s event with some added extras.

“The panel today was so well received that I think next year we will have a micro and macro panel, one in the morning and one in the afternoon,” she said.