National Strategy for Economic Transformation Delivery Board minutes: June 2023

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 21 June 2023

Attendees and apologies


  • Barry White, Co-Chair, Former Chief Executive, Scottish Futures Trust
  • Ewan Aitken, Chief Executive, Cyrenians
  • Douglas Millican, Former CEO, Scottish Water
  • Nora Senior, Former Executive Group Chair, Weber Shandwick and past Chair, Enterprise and Skills Strategic Board
  • Roz Foyer, General Secretary, Scottish Trade Union Congress
  • Audrey Cumberford, Principal and Chief Executive, Edinburgh College
  • Sir Simon Lister, Managing Director, BAE Systems Naval Ships


  • Neil Gray MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work and Energy, Co-Chair
  • Uzma Khan, Vice Principal Economic Development and Innovation, and Deputy Chief Operating Officer, University of Glasgow
  • Gillian Docherty, Chief Commercial Officer, University of Strathclyde
  • Ellis Watson, Former Chief Executive, DC Thomson Media Group

Supporting Officials

  • James Withers
  • Gregor Irwin, Director General Economy, Scottish Government
  • Aidan Grisewood, Director Economic Strategy, Scottish Government
  • Richard Murray, Deputy Director NSET Delivery and Finance, Scottish Government
  • Stephen Pathirana, Director of Lifelong Learning and Skills, Scottish Government

Items and actions


Barry welcomed members to the seventh meeting of the NSET Delivery Board and introduced James Withers and Stephen Pathirana who had joined to discuss the recently published Skills Review, Government's response to it and the potential impact on Programme 4.

Apologies were noted from the Cabinet Secretary, Gillian Docherty, Uzma Khan, and Ellis Watson. Although unable to attend, Barry spoke to the Cabinet Secretary where he wanted to bring the Board's attention to

  • the positive Foreign Direct Investment figures recently published, with Scotland remaining the most attractive location in the UK outside London for inward investors
  • the opening of the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS)
  • the importance of the work underway by New Deal for Business Group, with a report due by the end of the month
  • publication of the NSET Annual Progress Report

The minute of the previous Board meeting on 24 May was approved.

Overview of NSET Programme Performance

Dashboards were circulated in advance of the meeting and Aidan provided a brief overview of NSET Programme performance, noting:

  • publication of the NSET Annual Progress Report (on 21 June) which demonstrates the Strategy's progress and the progression of individual programmes
  • the launch of the Innovation Strategy and the opening of NMIS
  • the New Deal for Business Group update circulated in advance of the meeting. The Group has been positively received by business organisations, but the litmus test will be delivery of its recommendations and the Board's involvement will be helpful in driving that work forward

Aidan invited comments from members who:

  • welcomed the improvements in the presentation of data and reflected on their value in driving performance and delivery
  • raised the timeliness of data and noted that further work was needed on this and identifying those key activities that are on the critical path and will really help drive the programme forward
  • noted that work on the dashboards will continue and there will be a greater opportunity for Programme updates and discussion at the next Delivery Board in September


Barry thanked James for joining the Board meeting and invited him to share his thoughts on the key conclusions and recommendations in his recently published Skills Landscape Review.

James highlighted the following key points:

  • the Review took seven to eight months to complete and looked at the skills landscape (as defined by the £3.2bn Scottish Government spend on post-school education and training)
  • the Review is evidence led, forward-looking in line with NSET's ten-year economic ambitions and was developed against a background of other current Reviews, including those by Professor Muir and Professor Hayward
  • the Review looks to maximise and properly utilise Scotland's talent pool and acknowledges that as Scotland's economy transforms, there is a risk that without a coherent and effective learning system people could be left behind
  • In terms of where Scotland’s Skills system is currently, his conclusions are that:
    • There are positive and passionate individuals but also tension and division across agencies and delivery, for example around ‘education vs. vocation’
    • There is a lack of strategic direction from Government and a fragmented funding environment which lacks clarity for users and agencies
    • There are disjointed pathways and insufficiently embedded careers advice and education, particularly for adults post-school
    • A need for national prioritisation and regional flexibility
    • A lack of clarity on business interface and a need for greater involvement by business in shaping the system
    • Overall, the ingredients for success are there but one coherent system is needed to bring them together

James went on to outline the key recommendations from the Review. The recommendations set out can be accessed via the link - Fit for the Future: developing a post-school learning system to fuel economic transformation

Barry invited Stephen to set out the Scottish Government's next steps in responding to the Review. He noted:

  • the establishment of a single Lifelong learning and Skills Directorate
  • Ministers have welcomed James Withers' Report and work on Government's formal response will be carried out over the summer 

Barry opened up the discussion and members raised the following points:

  • there was broad support for the review's recommendations from the Board, with the need for change being recognised
  • the Report has been well-received by the college sector, recognising that it brings clarity in terms of the system Scotland needs and a shared sense of coalescing around a set of proposals which are consistent with other recent reviews of the skills landscape
  • from an industry perspective the Report has also been welcomed for seeking to remove the complexity in the system and increase access for learners
  •  the approach to the transition period needs to be carefully considered, taking account of the complexity of the transformation and the associated significant risks to delivery in the interim 
  • upskilling and the funding mechanics for part-time study need to be addressed
  • work will be required on the future measurement and evaluation criteria
  • careers services for adults need to improve and be embedded properly
  • the key pillars set out in the report are effective in bringing together those affected around a single set of unifying principles
  • from a trade union perspective there are concerns that the Review should not be seen as an opportunity for cost-cutting and that current funding levels should be maintained. It would be helpful to know more about timescales and for workers voices to be heard alongside those from business, employers and the sectors
  • the emphasis on a regional approach was welcomed but it was also recognised that the Regional Economic Partnerships are at differing levels of maturity, and the enterprise agencies current involvement in skills planning varies across Scotland

In responding to members, James and Stephen noted:

  • measures of success will be pivotal but will require input and ownership by the whole system
  • agree that careers advice provision should be seen as a national, all-age service
  • cost cutting was not within the scope of the review and the focus was on maximising the output from the current levels of funding
  • agree that the voices of users, employers and employees should all be heard
  • that the scale of change proposed is significant and the pace of change of any implementation would be tempered by the complexity and need for legislative change 

Barry noted the Board's majority support for many of the recommendations in the report, and the concerns noted by Roz, and proposed sharing this with the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills.

Delivery Board Champions - priorities for 2023-24

It was agreed this item would be taken in correspondence and Barry will write to each group of Board Champions to ask for views on the focus for the Board's work and deep dive sessions between now and summer 2024.

Barry thanked members and confirmed that the next meeting would be held on 7 September, held in person, and hosted by BAE Systems.


  • NSET PMO to further develop and progress the dashboards for the next meetings of the Portfolio and Delivery Boards
  • Secretariat to follow up with Stephen Pathirana, following the formal Ministerial response to the Skills Review later this year, to allow further discussion at NSET Delivery Board meetings
  • Secretariat to share the finalised minutes with the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills
  • Barry to write to Delivery Board Champions about priorities for 2023-24



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