A critical friend
Mark Bevan has spent most of his career trying to improve the lives of others. He’s the archetypal “people person” and a problem solver.
As such he might have found himself the perfect challenge as the new head of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry.
It terms itself an “economic development network” and has become a fixture in helping to shape public policy since the inter-war years. Bevan believes its role as a “think tank”, procuring and delivering research, may be a little underplayed and he is relishing the opportunity to get stuck into some big issues.
“Education, population and immigration, taxation, delivery of public services…” he says, when asked to name some of the topics among what he calls the membership’s “rattle bag” of ideas.
“Of course there are the old favourites like connectivity, infrastructure, productivity…”
“Yeah, that too,” he says, smiling, and after apologising for being held up in traffic.
SCDI has a long history and a relatively unchanged purpose, tackling the big issues of the day and contributing to public debate. Founded in 1931 it remains focused on influencing and inspiring Government and key stakeholders.
Bevan, who succeeded Ross Martin in May, says the 700-strong membership of businesses, public sector, academic and third sector bodies are fond of the organisation but want it to do a little more, ratchet up its presence and make more noise.
“What they say is that SCDI has been at its best when it has brought fresh thinking around the economy and they want it to do more of that,” he says.
“They also want us to be better placed to look at macro-economic policy and bring together the best of international thinking.”
To that end SCDI last month announced it would be working with the Fraser of Allander Institute to examine the challenges around economic growth. It will take in issues such as deindustrialisation and productivity and why Scotland lags behind other developed countries.
Bevan is keen to set some bold ambitions, and makes no apology for comparing SCDI to a Scottish version of the World Economic Forum.
“It’s that level of debate we need to aspire towards. Fabulous though Scotland is, we do not have a monopoly on ideas and we need to look around the world at what others are doing.
“We have to ask questions about what the economy is for, what sort of education system we need, whether our youngsters are fit for the demands of the workforce.”
‘We have to get people to do things differently’
With a background in communal and welfare issues, including spells at Amnesty International and children’s organisations, Bevan believes he can apply a campaigning style to his new role.
“We have to get people to do things differently. I hope we will be more ambitious and make more impact.”
Bevan describes himself as happiest when he’s discussing things with people who know more than himself.
“I ask a lot of questions. I enjoy bringing people together,” he says.
He’s now a couple of months into the job and there are plans to reshape SCDI, with changes to the board, to be announced in September. Fundamentally, he hopes this will help him achieve the new goals he is setting.
“It needs to be the pre-eminent organisation in Scotland working with all sectors to identify and deliver a more sustainable and growing economy,” he says, before shaking his head and sniggering at what he has just said. “That sounds a bit stuffy, but it’s what we are about.”
He comes across as part academic, part carer. He smiles a lot, which no doubt helped him when dealing with people in difficult situations, and betrays a bit of a mischievous streak as he regularly corrects himself when he thinks he may be straying off message.
Does he think SCDI still has enough clout to make a difference?
“In the week of the general election I got a letter from Nicola Sturgeon congratulating me on getting the job and saying how important SCDI was to the economy, so that tells me something.”
Does that make it too close to government?
“We are invited to the top table of discussions on the economy and I’d like to think that the government regarda us as being there to challenge their views. I would see us as a critical friend.”
Birthplace: Altrincham, Greater Manchester
Education: Dundee University (Economics – one year – moved on to community education)
Career highlights: executive roles at Capability Scotland, Keep Scotland Beautiful, Amnesty International, Business in the Community Scotland. Also worked in a non-executive capacity for Children in Scotland and the Scottish Centre for Children with Motor Impairment
Is there anything that annoys you?
People being treated badly and being blamed for things that are not their fault
What do you see as your strengths?
Balancing the big and small picture. Bringing people together
And what do you do outside work?
We have a sailing boat. It’s a boat not a yacht. Also enjoy cycling