SCOTLAND’S state-owned £2billion investment bank is likely to be without a full-time chief executive for the best part of a year, its chair has admitted.

Willie Watt told MSPs the replacement for Eilidh Mactaggart, who abruptly quit in January, may not start until the end of 2022.

However he said he was not “overly concerned” as chief financial officer Sara Roughead was acting as CEO in the meantime.

He also confirmed the bank would pay headhunters to find a new boss.

Holyrood’s economy and fair work committee had summoned Mr Watt following the sudden departure of Ms Mactaggart from the Scottish National Investment Bank (SNIB).

The bank announced on February 25 that Ms Mactaggart had left her £235,000-a-year post after just 18 months in charge, but refused to say why she had done so.

SNP finance secretary Kate Forbes and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon then repeatedly refused to tell parliament what the bank told them, despite the SNIB’s public funding.

Although £2bn of taxpayers’ money is going into the SNIB over 10 years, and Scottish Ministers are the sole shareholders, both women said the resignation was solely a matter for Ms Mactaggart and the bank’s board.

After MSPs complained vigorously about the lack of transparency, Ms MacTaggart issued a personal statement on March 4, but it also did little to explain her exit.

She said she was proud of her achievements at the SNIB, and the decision to leave had been “difficult” and that “ultimately it was made for personal reasons”. 

However she was also “considering a number of opportunities”, suggesting events in her private life wouldn't be stopping her from working somewhere else. 

Appearing with lawyer Carolyn Jameson, an SNIB board member, Mr Watt said the bank had a duty of care to all its employees, past and current, and it was not its policy to “divulge information on confidential and personal employee matters”.

However he revealed he had been surprised when Ms Mactaggart informed him of her exit plans on Thursday January 27.

The board and the Scottish Government were informed on Monday January 31. 

Asked by SNP MSP Colin Beattie if he was confident of having a new chief executive in place for the start of the new financial year in April, Mr Watt said: “No. Being totally honest with you, I think that it will take some time to recruit the right person. 

“We will need to make sure that we have a broad funnel to attract a wide range of potential candidates, and then we'll want to go through a very diligent process to make sure we recruit the right person. We've already started that process now. 

“But that will take probably until the second half of this year, potentially the end of the second half of this year, before we have someone in place.

“That does not overly concern me because I'm very confident in Sara's role as acting CEO, and the fact that we have a strong team around her.”

Asked if the bank would use costly headhunters, Mr Watt said: “We will use external search consultants. That will enable us to broaden the trawl across a much wider range than just sort of advertising and also it will allow us to target individuals who might have very specific experience, for example, in other development banks.

“That would be difficult for us to do if we just put an advert up on LinkedIn or something like that.”

Asked about cost, Mr Watt said: “We will identify a set of firms that we feel have the right professional capabilities. I think everyone on this committee would agree, it’s an extremely important role and we have to make absolutely the right choice.

“We will evaluate the proposals from [the headhunters] on the basis of cost, capability and value for money will be a very important criterion for that selection.”

Asked by committee convener Claire Baker what impact Ms Mactaggart’s exit had had on the SNIB, Ms Jameson said it had coped “remarkably well”.

She said: “Eilidh had built a very strong, high quality team, and they were left to pick up the reins, and they've done so very well. 

“I think as a board we've been very pleased by what we've seen. And also as a board, we've been providing additional support and spending time in the bank as well.”

Asked by Tory MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston if Ms Mactaggart’s resignation came as a surprise to him, Mr Watt said: “Yes, I think it would be true to say that that was the case.”

Asked if there had been attempts to get Ms Mactaggart to stay one, he said: Eilidh resigned for personal reasons. The position that the board took was that she was entirely in her rights to do that and we respected that,” 

Asked if it related at all to her work, he said: “No, she resigned for personal reasons.”

Ms Jameson also said there was no severance package or non-disclosure agreement for Ms Mactaggart.

Mr Watt went on to stress there had been no disagreements between ministers and Ms Mactaggart during her tenure.

“There have been no disagreements about policy, or the direction of the bank that I’m aware of that are relevant to your question,” he said in response to Tory MSP Liz Smith.

The SNIB, which went live in November 2020, uses public seed money to support green jobs as the country makes a just transition to a net zero economy. 

It has already disbursed £200m to 13 projects and employs 62 staff.

Ms Smith said later: “The Scottish National Investment Bank was launched just 18 months ago, yet it continues to be beset by problems. 

“Not only did it take the SNIB board a month to announce their CEO’s shock resignation, but we now learn that it may be the end of this year before a replacement is found. 

“That is an unacceptable delay for an organisation that was launched to great fanfare from the SNP, and is funded by - and should be answerable to - the Scottish public.

“The taxpayer has a right to expect accountability and transparency, as well as results, when so much public money is at stake.”