ONE of Scotland’s most prominent business figures has heavily criticised the country's newly published national strategy for economic transformation, declaring that it is short on focus and fails to address the flagging productivity of the country’s public sector.

Sir Tom Hunter branded the long-awaited document as a “long wish list with no magic wand to deliver it”, noting that more attention should have been paid to the views of people who create the jobs and prosperity that underpin the economy.

But there was a more favourable response from Scottish Chambers of Commerce, which said businesses would “applaud the scale and ambition set out in the strategy” – a sentiment broadly echoed by CBI Scotland.

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes finally unveiled the 10-year blueprint for Scotland’s economic future at the former Michelin tyre factory, now the Michelin Scotland Innovation Parc, in Dundee yesterday, several months behind schedule because of the demands of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Ms Forbes said the strategy focuses on “five key priorities” that fall within the powers of the Scottish Government and that it believes will “deliver most impact”, declaring that it meets both long and short-term challenges “head on” while playing to Scotland’s key strengths and opportunities.

The strategy will seek to foster a deep culture of entrepreneurship – supported by the appointment of a chief entrepreneurship officer in the Scottish Government to work with business – attract investment to support the development of net-zero industries and green jobs, improve productivity and address regional economic inequalities, develop skills, and embed the principle of fair work.

It proposes the creation of a National Strategy for Economic Transformation Board, co-chaired by Ms Forbes alongside a figure from the private sector, and a plan to revolutionise the way the public sector provides support for workers and businesses.

“We must now be bold, ruthless and laser-focused to maximise the impact of the actions we have identified,” Ms Forbes said.

But the strategy drew a critical response from Sir Tom Hunter, regarded as one of Scotland’s most successful entrepreneurs.

Sir Tom said: “What we have here is a long wish list with no magic wand to deliver it, which I do not believe is market tested nor pragmatic. We need a far more focused approach to economic delivery and one single body with absolute authority and responsibility for that delivery with no one checking their own homework.

“We also need to tackle the various elephants in the room. If we are truly focused on increased productivity, we need to address that in our public sector.”

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Sir Tom, who forged his reputation building Sports Division before turning his attention to investing and philanthropy, also had questions about the current structure of public sector support for the economy, including the number of local authorities in Scotland.

“And were Scotland a business would we have thirty two subsidiaries?” he said, referring to Scotland’s 32 local councils. “Our agencies such as Scottish Enterprise, which incidentally should be taken out of political control, must re-adjust to the future needs of business and be fit for purpose and our ambition be far greater – the Scottish National Investment Bank is vastly under-capitalised for its purpose if it is to achieve it.

“To be clear I admire Kate Forbes and I believe she sees the opportunities but in politics multiple interests tend to prevail as is apparent here.

“What we need is a business-led economic growth strategy where we turbo charge scale-ups; the only entities that move the economic dial and greater support for early-stage high-growth businesses. Combine that with a productivity drive across the economic landscape including the public sector and an education system fit for purpose and we have a chance of winning in the global race for economic prosperity.

“Let business and government genuinely come together, agree targets, timescales, budgets and responsibilities and get on with it.”

Liz Cameron, chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, offered a more favourable take for ministers on the report. Ms Cameron said: “Scotland’s businesses will applaud the scale and ambition set out in the strategy, which has the potential to live up to its name and truly revolutionise the Scottish economic landscape over the next decade.

“The strategy is a strong starting point for transformation and businesses of all sizes and from all sectors will step forward to help support the initiatives set out to drive forward the renewal of Scotland’s economy.”

But Ms Cameron added: “The key test for the Scottish Government and its agencies however will be to demonstrate they can effectively work with businesses to deliver meaningful change.”

Tracy Black, director of CBI Scotland, said: “Business will welcome the ambitions set out in the new economic transformation strategy as the right path for Scotland’s future economy.

“The Finance Secretary is also right to recognise the importance of delivery in turning high-level ambition into action – with business playing a vital role as a trusted partner. As firms across the country navigate rising living costs, ongoing shortages and spiralling business costs, they will want to see any new initiatives or investments bear fruit sooner rather than later.”

Andrew McRae, policy chair of the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland, said: “A new government report won’t help pay any bills today, but the headline measures in this strategy could help Scotland realise its long-term ambitions.

“Encouraging more people to go into business is the key to broadening and strengthening our economic base. It’s also a powerful tool in driving social mobility. That’s why we’re behind the idea for a chief entrepreneurship officer in the Scottish Government."