The Labour and Liberal Democratic Party Coalition Government – (1999-2007)
In 2002 Labour and the Liberal/Democrat’s formed a powerful coalition government in Scotland. Their political dominance over a fractured opposition provided opportunity for their politicians to introduce novel and untested working arrangements.
The Liberal/Democrats had enjoyed a long and successful history representing Scottish constituencies and had in place an efficient lobbying machine, advancing to government the interests of a number of multi-national organisations and other UK based companies. McEwan-Purvis was one such company, operating in or around Holyrood between 2001-2006.
With the assistance of government ministers, the company introduced direct links between the government and the commercial sector, (Willie Rennie’s input was substantial but largely unnoticed) through the introduction of an ALEO (given the title “The Intermediary Technology Institutes” (ITI)). Opposition party and public protests questioning the integrity of the scheme, “fell on deaf ears” and a new way of working to government was adopted by Scottish Enterprise and given a budget of budget of £450m.
The scheme, launched in 2003, was aimed at turning innovative ideas in Scottish universities into commercial triumphs, attracted hundreds of millions in public cash. However, only £600,000 was ever received in royalties.
ITI had badly malfunctioned; chronically failing to deliver the economic objectives envisaged by Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Government. The ten year programme produced very little of the expected commercial outputs, such as new tech start-ups and licensing revenues, and was prematurely terminated by Scottish Enterprise in 2010.
This article identifies some of the characters and circumstances that resulted in such a massive loss to the Scottish Taxpayer. The route to the truth may be convoluted and lengthy but it is important Scottish electorate is appraised of the shortfalls of those who seek their vote.
McEwan-Purvis – A Lobbying company with direct links to the Liberal Democratic Party (operating between 2001-2006).
There were two directors and 5 shareholders: (Jeremy Purvis – Sam McEwan – Willie Rennie – Jayne Struthers – Jacqueline Wilson)
Jeremy Purvis: graduated from University in London. He then worked full-time for Sir David Steel in the House of Commons and ran his office in the House of Lords. In 1998 he moved to Edinburgh to work for political lobbying firm GJW.
In 2001 he established, with a fellow director, his own strategic communications consultancy, advising clients on communications. He was elected to the Scottish Parliament in May 2003 (suggesting that he ceased to be a director of the company before June 2003).
In August 2013 he (Baron Purvis of Tweed) was elevated politically when he was appointed to the post of “working peer” for the Liberal Democratic party, in the House of Lords.
He represents the Liberal/Democratic party on: “The Commission on Parliamentary Reform which is an independent group, established in October 2016 by Ken Macintosh, the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament It expected to report by June 2017.
Sam McEwan: Was employed (from 1993) as Media Manager at “Scottish Enterprise.” (advising on public affairs issues in the software, textiles, food and biotechnology industries).
Before founding McEwan & Purvis he was manager of the Edinburgh based political lobbying firm GJW (now Weber Shandwick Worldwide).
Willie Rennie ran the Scottish Young Liberal Democrats whilst studying at college in Paisley. After graduation he left Scotland to work for the party in Cornwall, returning to Scotland in 1997 to take up the post of chief executive of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, moving on to the post of chief of staff in the new Scottish Parliament from 1999-2001.
From 2001-6 he worked for the lobbying company McEwan Purvis, primarily providing supporting advice to the Royal Society of Chemistry and the arms manufacturer Raytheon.
In 2006, Rennie won the Westminster seat of Dunfermline and West Fife in a bye-election. At Westminster, he was a member of the Lib/Dem shadow defence team, and also chair of their parliamentary campaigns unit. In November 2006 at Westminster PMQ’s Rennie (Lib/Dem defence spokesperson) asked the Prime Minister:
“After the conflict ended, cluster bombs used in Lebanon by Israel resulted in 159 casualties, including 23 deaths so far. In Geneva last week, why did the UK not support calls from the UN Secretary-General, the International Committee of the Red Cross and 27 nations for urgent action? In Oslo next year, will the Prime Minister push for a ban on those indiscriminate bombs, or does he agree with the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, who has responsibility for the armed forces, who strongly advocates the use of such bombs?”
What a chancer, (and thick with it) Rennie was a Lobbyist employed with McEwan Purvis, (the Liberal/Democratic commercial organ) who had the merchants of death as their client. Yes, it was “Raytheon” – one of the World’s largest weapons manufacturer. Looks like “Oor Willie” is not only a political opportunist but the worst kind of hypocrite seeing as Raytheon is a proud manufacturer of, you guessed it, CLUSTER BOMBS.
He failed to hold the seat in the 2010 GE and returned to Scotland once more taking up a newly created post as special adviser to Scottish Secretary Michael Moore then Danny Alexander.
He was elected leader of Scotland’s Lib/Dems after their demolition in the 2011 Holyrood elections. In his first address to party members he stated that under his leadership the party would rediscover its soul and rebuild trust with voters. He was an honourable man who would have no truck with anyone in public office who did not measure up to the exacting standards he demanded of himself. Those who failed, for any reason would be expected by him to resign.
And so to “Frenchgate”. The exposure of former Scotland Secretary Alistair Carmichael, after much prevarication by himself, of his disgraceful, underhand leadership and devious direct involvement, with others in an attempt to smear Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
There were strident across the political spectrum, the public and the press for the exposed rogue and liar to stand down from the seat he won by a whisker in the Westminster Election for Orkney and Shetland. But he didn’t. That he took his place at Westminster brings politics into disrepute. And Willie and his principles. Scotland waited in vain for the word “Resignation” It was not to be.
Finally, after much pressure Willie issued the following statement:
“I have discussed the serious nature of the publication of the Scotland Office document with Alistair Carmichael. He fully understands the impact it has had on his reputation. He deeply regrets his actions, has accepted responsibility for his error of judgement, apologised to Nicola Sturgeon and the French Ambassador and declined his ministerial severance payment. I have known Alistair for almost thirty years and have worked closely with him in parliament for almost a decade. I have always been impressed by his energy, dedication and professionalism. He has served Orkney and Shetland for fourteen years and has been elected on four separate occasions. It is clear to me that recent events are an aberration. As a liberal I believe that people deserve a second chance. I hope fair minded people would agree that Alistair Carmichael should be given that second chance.”
Clients of McEwan-Purvis
Raytheon: At that time the fifth largest defence manufacturer in the world. The company had four business areas: Missile Defense; Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance; Precision Engagement; and Homeland Security. It was most famous for missiles. The company is a global leader in the development and deployment of advanced technology missile systems and air combat and strike systems”. Products include the AIM-9 Sidewinder air-air missile, the AIM-120 AMRAAM air-air missile and the Tomahawk Block IIIC Cruise Missile. and the now banned cluster bomb.
Royal Pharmaceutical Society (Scottish branch):
Royal Society of Chemistry:
Association for Science Education in Scotland:
Dec 2002: Scottish Parliament Science Information Service
In December 2002 the Scottish Parliament launched a one-year pilot Science Information Scheme for MSPs at the Scottish Parliament. The Scheme was promoted as a collaborative project between the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe), the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) and the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) in association with the Institute of Physics in Scotland and the University of Edinburgh.
To ensure all MSPs had access to rapid, reliable and factual information on science, engineering and technology-related issues in order to help inform Parliamentary debates on scientific issues.
The scheme was operated through a group of 52 Topic Co-ordinators who acted as “sign posts” directing MSP queries to the appropriate expert. Queries were directed to these Topic co-ordinators through the RSC Parliamentary Liaison Officer or SPICe.
Political lobbying connection
The contacts named at the end of the press release included the Royal Society of Chemistry. The contact was named as Willie Rennie of the political lobbying company McEwan Purvis. This indicated that Rennie was passing himself off as working for a learned society while in reality he was employed by and a shareholder in the PR firm. It is common knowledge that science related organisations enjoy strong corporate links and that they routinely promote pro-corporate views on science issues.
The scheme, (guaranteed to be rapid, and impartial) was run jointly by the parliament, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Royal Society of Edinburgh, in association with other learned or scientific bodies.
Some briefings for MSPs were provided through the scheme on an anonymous basis and initially the list of “Topic Co-ordinators” was kept confidential to avoid “inhibiting” their ability to provide “free and frank” advice.
After a long struggle the Green Party gained access to the list under the freedom of information (FIA) and discovered that among the Topic Co-ordinators were Sir Tom McKillop, (then chief executive of Astra/Zeneca) and other academics with ties to industry which the Greens said made them partisan. (1)
(1) The GM crops/agrochemical divisions of Astra/Zeneca and Novartis merged in 2000 under the name Syngenta. As of 2008 Syngenta is one of the major producers of GM crops.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the SPICe briefing on GM crops was described by Dr Sue Mayer, director of campaign group Genewatch and a member of the UK Government’s Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, as “highly biased and pro-GM”.
Protests against the Scheme
Mark Ballard, the Green MSP, wrote to Holyrood’s chief executive asking for a review of the Scottish Parliament science information service saying “The scheme must be open, transparent and objective. I am deeply concerned that people providing information feel the need to hide behind a cloak of anonymity.”
Professor David Miller of Strathclyde University, who runs the internet group spinwatch claimed the parliament has been naive in its dealings with the private sector and its lobbyists. He pointed out that Willie Rennie, now a LibDem MP, effectively ran the science information scheme while working for a PR agency hired by the Royal Society of Chemistry – the kind of linkage between learned societies and private lobbyists who could represent other clients, which made it impossible to be confident of the impartiality of advice.
The Intermediary Technology Institutes (ITI)
Ignoring the critics warnings, (at the end of the 2003-2004 trial period) the Scheme was formally adopted by the Scottish government and titled, “The Intermediary Technology Institutes” (ITI).
Its mission statement included the statement: “to drive innovation in research and development within Life Sciences, Energy and Digital Media sectors.”
To facilitate the foregoing the ITI’s commissioned research programmes to generate assets for onward commercialisation by Scottish companies supporting Scotland’s economic growth.
14 Jan 2009: Scottish Enterprise takes charge of failed ITI scheme
Scotland’s flagship technology commercialisation body is to lose its independence and come under the direct control of its main financial backer, Scottish Enterprise.
In a move to cut spending, the Intermediate Technology Institute (ITI) will become part of the publicly funded enterprise quango.
The surprise decision means that the ITI chairman, will step down and the organisation’s non-executive board will be disbanded at the end of the month.
In November, the chairman said that the organisation – set up in 2003 to commercialise intellectual property – faced a shortfall in its budget, allocated annually from Scottish Enterprise. Last year the group had a budget of £38.1 million.
The same month, Scottish Enterprise said “in future the two organisations will be working more closely together”, but the merger surprised business groups and politicians.
Scottish Enterprise yesterday said there would be no compulsory redundancies among the organisation’s 80 staff but promised there would be a review of its funding.
A spokesman denied the merger was a failure of strategy on behalf of Scottish Enterprise and said it would knock out duplication between the two organisations.
Last year, Scottish Enterprise undertook a major restructuring as more than half of its employees moved out to a new organisation, Careers Scotland, and its annual budget was slashed from £329m to £283m.
BACKGROUND to ITI
The Intermediate Technology Institutes (ITI) were set up by Scottish Enterprise in 2003 to commercialise technology based research and intellectual property in a ten-year programme with an overall budget of £450 million.
ITI Scotland oversees divisions in three main research areas: energy in Aberdeen, life sciences in Dundee and techmedia in Glasgow.
In its latest annual report, ITI Scotland said it had so far spent £134 million on 25 commercialisation projects and filed 132 patents.
11 Sep 2013: Holyrood urged to back Scottish Enterprise probe
The Scottish Parliament has been urged to back calls for Audit Scotland to investigate a failed Scottish Enterprise scheme (ITI) which wasted more than £230 million of taxpayers’ money. The scheme, launched in 2002, was aimed at turning innovative ideas in Scottish universities into commercial triumphs, and attracted hundreds of millions in public cash.
However, only £600,000 was ever received in royalties, and it was wound-up in 2009 having been deemed a spectacular failure. No full-scale investigation has ever taken place into why the programme did not succeed and Audit Scotland has been asked to find out what went wrong to ensure mistakes are not repeated in future, and to obtain an explanation as to how so much cash could have been wasted.
Monday 19 Jan 2015: Academics warn policy-makers must learn from their mistakes
New research examining the controversial Scottish Government funded innovation initiative – the Intermediate Technology Institutes (ITIs) – was published this week by a team of entrepreneurship researchers from the Universities of St Andrews, Glasgow and Edinburgh.The work examines the spectacular failure of the programme.
The ITIs were an extremely ambitious policy intervention launched in 2003 by Scottish Enterprise with a budget of £450m. Designed to have a major transformational impact on the Scottish economy, its main aim was to produce new high-technology start-ups and to dramatically increase the levels of business expenditure on research and development (R&D).
The researchers concluded that the ITI badly malfunctioned; chronically failing to deliver the economic objectives envisaged by Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Government. The ten year programme produced very little of the expected commercial outputs, such as new tech start-ups and licensing revenues, and was prematurely terminated by Scottish Enterprise in 2010.
In the first independent and objective assessment of the initiative, the research examined the reasons for this policy failure.
Three comments are worthy of note
(1) The ITI programme was based on an outdated linear view of innovation. The critical stumbling block behind the policy’s failure was the inability of policy makers to properly diagnose the nature of structural problems within the Scottish entrepreneurial ecosystem.
While policy failures in the sphere of innovation policy are numerous and costly, such failures are rarely acknowledged by policy makers, as was the case of the ITIs. Arguably, this prevents the ability to learn from past mistakes.”
(2) A number of factors contributed to ITI : The research undertaken was too ‘far from market’, fitted poorly with the innovation needs of Small and medium-sized enterprises (SME’s) had too many restrictions in terms of the usage of the intellectual property (IP) and the licensing conditions were prohibitively expensive.
Innovation policy makers need to become less focused on generating the supply of new IP and more focused on increasing the ability of Scottish SMEs to undertake innovative activities and to absorb external sources of knowledge. A critical mass of innovative SMEs will provide more of a seed-bed for new tech start-ups than policies to stimulate and protect.
(3) Lessons need to be learnt to prevent similar and costly policy failures being repeated. This entails being open with external researchers and stakeholders with information and data to further understanding of the performance of policies and, crucially, the causes of failure.
The authors of the report expressed concern that Scottish politicians may not have fully absorbed the lessons from the failure of the initiative.