11 September 2013

S4M-07643 Enterprise Networks

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-07643, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on enterprise networks.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I have a special interest in the enterprise network, as the constituency that I represent is the only one that straddles the areas that are covered by Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish Enterprise, so I have to deal with both agencies in my constituency work.

The experience is markedly different in the Highlands and Islands, where social concerns are at the centre of the agency’s activity, in contrast to the business-focused approach in the south of Scotland. I commend the Highlands and Islands Enterprise model to the rest of the country.

I have a couple of examples from elsewhere that might inform the debate to some extent. Our English friends do not necessarily get everything wrong—I have to say that because as my English granny, who came from the north-east of England, would not—from up where she is—wish to hear me saying any different down here. The north-east is one of the areas of England that has suffered most from Westminster’s abolition of the regional development agencies.

One of the people with whom I worked when I was Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change was Andrew Adonis, the Labour Secretary of State for Transport at Westminster—and a very effective minister he was. He is now working closely with a group of local authorities in the north-east of England to try to fill that gap, produce economic reports and co-ordinate activities. They are doing very well, in comparison with doing nothing, but they are denied the tools—as the report that he has published make clear—that would enable them to compete as effectively with Scotland as they wish. Many people in the north-east of England are now looking to us and considering the ways in which we could collaborate across the border, and I wish them well in that endeavour.

I will say just a word or two about Brazil, which is now part of the BRIC acronym—Brazil, Russia, India and China—that denotes the next wave of successful economies that will come to the fore in the world in the years to come. When I visited Brazil in 1982, it was in very deep difficulties indeed. In the eight days I was there, the value of the cruzeiro—Brazil’s currency—halved, and by the time I got back home and received my credit card statement with my transactions from Brazil, I actually had to pay less than one fifth of what the price had been when the transaction was conducted. That economy was in a difficult place.

However, the Brazilian Government then recognised that capital investment was essential to get the country out of the hole it was in. For example, the Government supported a university engineering course that included an exercise to design a commuter aircraft. That project led to Embraer, whose aircraft can now be seen at all our major airports—including Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow—operating regional routes around Europe. It is now a successful company. Out of adversity, the right investment policies by Government, through its enterprise agencies, can lead to successful outcomes.

Let us not imagine, however, that every investment will be successful. Indeed, it is necessary that we are not so risk averse as to invest only in certainties. We must be prepared to take some of our money and put it into projects that involve slightly higher risks than we might otherwise want. Some of those will pay off big style, but we should be prepared to carry the can for those that do not, and we should be prepared to make such investments.

Tavish Scott took a pop at Kevin Stewart’s references to The Economist, but I must say that The Economist is an excellent newspaper. My wife used to write for it, so I am bound to say that. It was deeply offensive to Scotland for The Economist to include on its cover, in the edition to which Tavish Scott referred, a map of Scotland with the label “Skintland”. That label was actually quite disjointed from the article inside. I confess—please do not tell anyone that I did this—that, for some months afterwards, whenever I passed through a railway station, I moved The Economist behind other magazines, so ashamed was I that people might buy it.

Presiding Officer, I have—to use the minister’s word—oodles more that I could say. Would that I had the time to do so, but thank you very much.


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