National Economic Forum: June 2021

National Economic Forum 16 June 2021 Transforming Scotland's Economy: working together to secure a successful future.

Host: Ivan McKee, Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise/ Tom Arthur, Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth

Speaker / facilitator: Sara Thiam, Chief Executive SCDI Scottish Council for Development and Industry

Scribes: Graeme Cook, Head of Procurement Services Division, Scottish Government/ Morag Watt, Supply Chains Development Programme, Scottish Government


This group explored how public sector funding routes, including but not limited to procurement, can be used to enable an inclusive and green economic recovery. By considering how to effectively employ whole system approaches which encourage cohesive delivery this discussion group also considered where and how we can foster resilient supply chains. It also looked at what actions are required to help capture domestic opportunities to create jobs and build export potential in the short, medium and longer term.

Introduction and background

Ivan McKee, Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise introduced the discussion themes, emphasising the government’s desire for feedback from industry on how to take the Supply Chains Development Programme forward. Building on the lessons learned through the urgent procurement of PPE in 2020, the programme is concentrating on products that can be made in Scotland. While the programme has already identified some targets for support, government wants ideas from industry on where to focus next. 

Sara Thiam summarised key points in the paper shared before the session and introduced various break-out sessions and online tools that would be used during the session. 

To set the scene, the audience was asked their views on the current success of Supply Chain Development activity in Scotland. Responses indicated broadly middling views, with some participants rating progress to be very limited. Construction was discussed with some feeling progress there has been very slow. Transport links, particularly to island communities, was identified as a barrier. One participant felt that knowledge of industry in government bodies could be improved. 


In which other industries/sectors are there the greatest opportunities to build resilient domestic public supply chains? Which of these might provide a valuable foothold in Global markets?

Multiple industries were proposed for inclusion in the Supply Chains Development Programme, including farming and food, life sciences (particularly in scaled manufacturing capacity), data and data flow, rail and engineering, space tech and satellites, photonics and optical wireless communications. Construction (particularly in social housing) was discussed in some detail, identifying some key products (windows, doors, plasterboard, and steel). Artificial Intelligence-driven manufacture was discussed as playing an important part. Electric vehicle charging was discussed as both an opportunity for sales and as critical infrastructure.

During the wider discussion, links with trade were emphasised: stronger supply chains have export potential as well as offering scope for import-substitution to create local jobs and value. 

What are the most effective ways of engaging the widest range of businesses in these opportunities? Who is already good at this? 

The Supplier Development Programme has a good reach: one of its recent meet the buyer virtual events involved more than 1,000 businesses. The Chambers of Commerce also have an effective buyer events as part of their trade programme.

In a similar fashion to the exposure that COP26 is giving to Net Zero capability in Scotland, a significant Scottish presence at comparable UN Global Health conferences could similarly showcase the global market potential of Scotland’s Life Sciences Sector. Initiatives such as the Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre will be important catalysts. 

What actions are required to help build supply chain capability and capacity to help capture domestic opportunities to create jobs and build export potential in the short and medium term? What needs to change? Who needs to lead?

More targeted support was called for, particularly aimed at women and entrepreneurs. SDI could put on more Global Digital Missions – these have been delivered during the Covid pandemic and are enormously effective for accessing global markets as well as being relatively low-cost to access and there is more inclusive access as no need to travel.

Businesses feel further work is required to improve ‘pipeline visibility’ (tender or contract opportunities), although some participants cited issues with industry’s awareness of what’s already there, including pipelines, via eg Scottish Enterprise, Business Gateway, and the Supplier Development Program.

How can industry help / lead? Are existing Industry Leadership Groups the answer?

Collective leadership is needed and, from the private sector, both large multi-nationals with a significant footprint in Scotland and home-grown SME’s can play a part.

Closing comments

Tom Arthur, Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth, gave the closing remarks, thanking Sara Thiam for facilitating and all of the attendees for participating. The Minister identified the main take-away messages as;

  • both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ are important to getting the right outcomes
  • collaborative working is essential, working in ‘adult partnership’ between all parties


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