AS I SEE IT: TERRY MURDEN says the Scottish National Investment Bank’s search for a CEO is hampered by government conditions
While the SNP seeks a new leader, the search for someone to replace Eilidh Mactaggart as CEO of the Scottish National Investment Bank plods on without any material progress. Since I last wrote about the unfilled vacancy in early January I’ve heard there are pressures from within to relax the terms and conditions that her replacement must meet as they are proving an obstacle to finding the right candidate.
The bank has been without a permanent CEO for more than a year and is also seeking a chief investment officer (CIO). These are not only top jobs, they also command big salaries. But like similar struggles to find a new chairman for Scottish Enterprise, the problem is finding candidates who tick all the government’s boxes.
A source close to the process tells me that in order to get a CEO who meets the sustainability and diversity criteria on top of the usual attributes may mean handing more of the dealmaking experience on to the CIO.
A spokesman for the bank insists “the scope of the CEO’s role has categorically not changed”. That may be so, but it has been turned down by at least one candidate who didn’t fancy jumping through all the hoops despite it being accompanied by one of the biggest public sector remuneration packages in the UK.
There are those who say Scotland doesn’t need the bank at all; that it is merely replicating what is already available in the private sector and from Scottish Enterprise where noses were put out of joint when its own Scottish Investment Bank was not seen to be up to the job, despite being a key co-investor in numerous deals.
However, the new bank was a priority for Nicola Sturgeon who also liked to insert the word ‘national’ into her initiatives. The SIB was therefore re-invented as the SNIB, at arm’s length from government and Scottish Enterprise, with a 60-strong staff, a board of non-execs and its own budget.
One of those who attended a consultation meeting on setting up the bank told me: “We were told straight away that it was not a consultation at all. Nicola wanted it, so this was our chance to shape it.”
Since its launch at the end of 2020 it has managed to meet its targets but has yet to set the heather alight, Barely any of its investments have grabbed the headlines, let alone proved a game-changer.
Meanwhile, in a pledge that barely got a mention in the media, SNP leadership candidate Humza Yousaf is promising that if he becomes First Minister he would raise the bank’s budget fivefold, handing it £10bn instead of £2bn over ten years. Coincidentally, this figure was mentioned by my source who attended the “consultation” meeting.
If this is the sort of capital now being discussed it could give the bank the chance to make a real difference by putting meaningful investment behind new industries such as wind turbine manufacture, hydrogen energy and robotics; and divert it from dabbling in grants and loans best left to others.
Terry Murden held senior positions at The Sunday Times, The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and The Northern Echo and is now editor of Daily Business