The Key Ideas

#42 Move to a system of 'sector associations' to develop economic development approaches at an individual sector level

There is a strong case for Scotland adopting an economic development strategy of 'no sector left behind'; working from the assumption that no form of economic activity isn't capable of improving, innovating, and creating new products, markets, and approaches. That requires us to reject both 'magic button' approaches (using only a limited set of macro-level policies) and the entire 'let them do as they please' philosophy. But it also requires a genuine sector-level mutual development approach.

The solution to this is to allow industry sectors to produce their own economic development strategies in a mutual way and working with the full range of government and its agencies. This should be done by assisting in the establishment of sector associations. These would be loosely constituted groups which provide a space where all the players in an industry sector can come together and discuss the best approaches to development in an open, mutual, and creative way. They would involve small business, big business, supply chains businesses, trade unions, employees, education and training providers, communities (where industries are geographically based), and consumers or service users (where appropriate).


It would be the job of these sector associations to identify the full set of factors which would influence their business environment in ways that encourage the most positive development. The role of economic development professionals and representatives of government and its agencies would be to support this process and provide advicebut not to lead it (although government may very well wish to set goals and targets such as 'raise wages' or 'improve environmental performance'). Associations would be required to come to negotiated and consensual approaches, informed by the democratic mechanisms explored in Academies, and not dominated by only one of the partners (certainly not dominated by whichever parts of an industry sector are best able to pay for lobbyists). This consensus approach would form a sector development plan.


It would then be the responsibility of the different players identified in a development plan to enact their part of the plan. Some of this will be internal, for example enterprises asking supply chain companies to behave in slightly different ways, or employees seeking more training and development. Some of it will be external, for example asking local authorities to alter procurement policies, or asking development agencies to assist with export support. The aim is to coordinate as much action as is felt necessary across as many partners as are required to deliver that policy. This will create sector-specific industrial policies. Of course, sector associations cannot bind others to the proposals they produce (democratically elected governments must have the final say in public policy), but it should be possible to produce genuinely powerful development strategies through mutual working.


A sector association approach will have three major benefits. First, it draws on the knowledge, experience and creativity of a wider group of partners through the mutual development process. Second, solutions will be tailored to the sector and the sector will have to take responsibility for it's own development. And thirdly, it will help to respond to the problem of different levels of development within and between different industry sectors, bolstering and supporting adaptable and innovative sectors across Scotland.