National Strategy for Economic Transformation Delivery Board minutes: June 2022

Minutes from the meeting of the group held on 8 June 2022.

Attendees and apologies

  • Kate Forbes MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Economy, Co-Chair
  • Barry White, Co-Chair, Former Chief Executive, Scottish Futures Trust
  • Ewan Aitken, Chief Executive, Cyrenians
  • Colette Cohen, CEO, The Net Zero Technology Centre
  • Audrey Cumberford, Principal and Chief Executive, Edinburgh College
  • Gillian Docherty, Chief Commercial Officer, University of Strathclyde
  • Uzma Khan, Vice Principal Economic Development and Innovation, and Deputy Chief Operating Officer, University of Glasgow
  • Sir Simon Lister, Managing Director, BAE Systems Naval Ships
  • Jamie McGowan, Managing Director, Essence of Harris
  • Douglas Millican, CEO, Scottish Water
  • Nora Senior, Former Executive Group Chair, Weber Shandwick and past Chair, Enterprise and Skills Strategic Board
  • Ellis Watson, Former Chief Executive, DC Thomson Media Group


  • Roz Foyer, General Secretary, Scottish Trade Union Congress

Supporting officials

  • Louise Macdonald, Director General Economy, Scottish Government
  • Aidan Grisewood, Director for Economic Strategy, Scottish Government

Items and actions


The Cabinet Secretary welcomed everyone to this first meeting of the National Strategy for Economic Transformation (NSET) Delivery Board and thanked them for joining the Board and giving their time to supporting this work. Barry White introduced himself as Co-Chair and Members gave a brief introduction.

Terms of reference (ToR) and governance

The Cabinet Secretary introduced this item and stressed the importance of being ruthless in delivering the five policy programmes. The Board would review progress and promote a Team Scotland approach in delivery by the public, private and third sector. 

During the discussion Members raised the following points:-

  • the importance of getting the purpose and challenge parameters right in the ToR – to oversee, challenge and champion. The Board’s role was to scrutinise and hold delivery partners to account, bringing with it a need for alignment
  • the importance of articulating the powers of the Board, for example whether it is able to shift resources and close programmes, and clarifying how the Board’s powers relate to this relates to the agency boards
  • the role of soft power will be crucial in securing industry involvement and that of the third sector. The latter is worth £7bn to the economy and needed to be a key partner in delivery
  • success of NSET was not just about government and the agencies but the whole system (particularly mentioning the importance of housing and transport). Need to ensure different parts of the system are linked up, particularly in light of the challenging fiscal position set out in the recent Resource Spending Review (RSR). This applies at the local authority level where often councils have their own economic development strategy, and a query as to whether stronger regional strategies could aid greater cohesion and be more welcoming to business
  • recognised that there should be some flexibility over the length of time Members remain on the Board, given the long-term nature of the strategy
  • the remit should recognise the Board’s role in supporting and promoting actions which are working well and could be extended, along with sharing lessons learned across the programmes
  • the Board should look beyond the immediate day-to-day challenges of delivery to scan the horizon to ensure the programmes are still appropriate for transforming the Scottish economy as new challenges emerge
  • further information is needed on the role of the Secretariat, how it will support the Board (it was confirmed that the board could commission research, whether from the secretariat or from wider departmental resource) and who is responsible for evaluation
  • helpful to establish specific points where the Board can take stock and review the impact it is having

The Cabinet Secretary summed up the discussion and said that with regards to the powers of the Board there were several levers she could deploy. She also noted the accountability to the government which in turn was accountable to the Parliament which in turn was accountable to the people of Scotland.

Reflections on the work of the Enterprise and Skills Strategic Board (ESSB)

The Cabinet Secretary noted the success and progress the Enterprise and Skills Strategic Board (ESSB) had made, thanked Nora Senior and her Members for all their work, and invited Nora to summarise the key points from their report published today.

Nora outlined the key lessons learned which were beneficial to the Delivery Board. She observed that the ESSB’s four missions and interest in innovation and R&D had been taken forward in NSET. Agencies having multi-year funding gave more confidence but less flexibility. As such it would be useful if the Delivery Board had powers to close actions and shift resources. There was a need for clear communication with the agencies as to what was wanted by way of delivery if we want real cohesion. Data and resource sharing are areas where the Delivery Board could give guidance. Changes in senior Scottish Government (SG) staffing was a hindrance. There was a time-lag for things to be delivered if we want to affect change. Also there was a need to clarify who signs off on the Project Initiation Documents (PIDs) for the NSET actions.

Members of the Board made the following points:-

  • the need to be bold and pivot away from things that were no longer needed was emphasised. In the business world one would change where the money went to the priority areas
  • the impact of the RSR on agency budgets was noted and the fact it brought with it substantial pressure and a need to reform
  • the idea of a transformation programme for the agencies was floated but it was felt that any change should be embedded as part of their focus on NSET and not a separate programme
  • there was a need to ensure the wider system was not holding the agencies back e.g. aligning policy drivers, funding anomalies
  • it was suggested that the Delivery Board should create space to make agencies freer but also hold them to account on NSET delivery. It was also important to consider the quality of the relationships between the Delivery Board and all of those it will hold to account, not just Agencies
  • the need for the agencies to have fewer priorities was touched on and the benefit of them aligning on a core and deprioritising elsewhere. The desirability of merging the some 400 activities into bigger priorities was also mentioned

The Cabinet Secretary was keen to ensure that the Delivery Board built on the work of the ESSB. There was work in hand to ensure the lessons learned were taken forward by officials. The future work programme would focus on fewer tasks.

Latest position on implementing NSET

Barry White introduced this item, noting that the 100 days since the launch of the NSET was today. The Board would look at this as well as the paper on strategic communications. The fact that delivery plans were to be finalised by September 2022 was also touched on.

Aidan Grisewood led the discussion explaining that there had been a number of commitments which have been delivered within 100 days of the launch of the NSET to keep up momentum and more will follow shortly. 

He set out that the key building blocks – plans, people and money, are now broadly in place with initial action plans being developed, programme leads and directors established, and the RSR published on 31 May 2022.

It was widely felt among Members that although all 77 NSET actions were important it would be helpful for the Board to focus on a subset of those where it could make the most impact. It might be advisable to look at those actions which were the foundations for other actions.

Measuring success was deemed critical and work was in hand to develop a set of metrics with which to measure impact of NSET across the economy. It was felt that success was not just about the individual actions but at the cumulative effect at the programme level. Milestones would be what the outcome of the work was. There was a need to weigh up what was the most important, what we can influence most and timescales.  

Thought was also required as to how to incentivise private sector expenditure where it was thought that there was a lot of funding set aside for investment. There was a need to find common cause with industry and the third sector. Again relationships would be key. This would also tie into the strategic communications work where industry was asking what it can do to help. We needed real clarity on what the incentive was for business what task we want it to do and then that becomes the narrative.

Barry summed up the discussion emphasising that there were strong stories to be told on existing economic strengths, the need for all delivery bodies to maintain a clear focus and for the board to be open minded, calling on specialist evidence when required.

Future Work Programme

Barry White set out the proposal for a standard agenda for future meetings together with deep dives. He explored the issue of what level of deep dives would work best – whether at the programme level or aspects of a given programme. 

There was agreement among Members that it would be really helpful to get everyone up to speed on all six programmes together with a focus on a few aspects per programme of more urgent need. The Board should be a safe space where difficult questions are surfaced by the Programme Directors.

The Cabinet Secretary outlined her three priorities:

  • impact and what would make the biggest difference
  • influence, i.e. the relationships and people who we need to take with us on delivery. This sits within programme 6
  • where key decisions need to be taken shortly: for example in Programme 1 (Entrepreneurial people and culture) on implementing the Logan Review and tech scalers; or where quick gains can be achieved, for example in Programme 2 New market opportunities in hydrogen where companies are keen to invest in Scotland

Barry added to these on green economy jobs (which was fast moving and Scotland needs to be nimble to seize opportunities); entrepreneurship (where many of the key players in the public sector are risk averse) and ensuring strong and coherent plans for strengthening regional economic performance.

The Cabinet Secretary brought the meeting to a close by thanking the Members for their participation in what had been a very successful first meeting.


  • NSET Secretariat to update the ToR and recirculate
  • Aidan to check the involvement of the third sector in the landscape
  • Aidan to develop a revised work plan which addresses the immediate priorities identified by the Board
  • Aidan to ask Programme leads to identify their two or three most important actions as part of the programme plans which will be considered by the Board in September
  • NSET Secretariat to run sessions over the summer with Board Members who would like further information on the NSET Programmes.  This will also provide additional information as to how the Secretariat will support the Board
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