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Wednesday, 28 August, 2002, 15:17 GMT 16:17 UK
Tories accuse quango of vendetta
Scottish Enterprise
Scottish Enterprise and the Tories are at loggerheads
Scotland's biggest quango has been waging a political vendetta against the Tories, according to Scottish Conservative Leader David McLetchie.

A BBC Scotland investigation has discovered that Scottish Enterprise management issued instructions to staff to use the company's resources to tackle Tory criticism.

Enterprise Minister Iain Gray said he was taking the matter "extremely seriously" and said he would seek an urgent meeting with Scottish Enterprise executives.

Scottish Enterprise denied that it attacked political parties but stressed that it has "an obligation to respond...to unfounded criticism".


Scottish Enterprise does not attack the policies of political parties, nor should we as a public body

Scottish Enterprise spokesman
Mr McLetchie said the quango was in breach of political impartiality laws which govern quangos and called on the Scottish Executive to launch an inquiry.

Two months ago Tory MSP Murdo Fraser called for Scottish Enterprise, Scotland's main economic development agency, to be abolished.

He said its annual budget, which is funded by the Scottish Executive, should be given to the private sector.

A week later Scottish Enterprise chief executive Robert Crawford attacked the Tory proposal.

A subsequent BBC investigation has found that on the same day management and staff at Scottish Enterprise were instructed to use all of the company's resources to criticise the Tory position.

An e-mail entitled, Conservative Comment for Action, listed eight different recommendations for the campaign.

'Political debate'

It ended by asking for comment on how Tory criticism should be addressed in the run-up to next year's Scottish parliamentary elections.

Mr McLetchie said this was a disgraceful breach of political impartiality and called on First Minister Jack McConnell to act.

He said: "Jack McConnell and his ministers have got to stamp this out because the whole integrity of public life in Scotland depends on civil servants not engaging in political debate of this nature."

A Scottish Enterprise spokesman said: "Scottish Enterprise does not attack the policies of political parties, nor should we as a public body.

"However when Scottish Enterprise comes under attack we do have an obligation to respond and explain to our customers what we do and to address any criticism of the organisation which are unfounded or factually incorrect regardless of where this comes from.

Scottish Enterprise chief executive Robert Crawford
Robert Crawford: Chief executive

"The business of Scottish Enterprise is economic development and that is the focus of our work. We have no wish to be diverted from that course."

Responding to the controversy, Mr Gray said: "It is entirely inappropriate for any public agency to engage in party political activity and I take these allegations extremely seriously.

"I will be meeting urgently with the chairman and chief executive of Scottish Enterprise to establish the facts."

In February it was revealed that Dr Crawford received more than 188,000 a year - a sum which tops Prime Minister Tony Blair's salary by 23,000.

At the time an executive spokesman said the salary was necessary to ensure Dr Crawford's specialist services could be retained at the public body, which has an annual budget of 450m.

'Whistle blowing'

Dr Crawford took a 50% pay cut when he joined Scottish Enterprise from accountants Ernst and Young in January 2000.

The executive in January unveiled new rules governing appointments to public bodies and quangos.

The measures included a new Scottish public appointments commissioner and creating a "whistle blowing" procedure to report anyone who abused the public appointments system.

Deputy Finance Minister Peter Peacock said the measures were designed to extend openness and accountability in public life.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Investigations Correspondent Bob Wylie
"Scottish Enterprise is locked in a bitter dispute with the Conservative Party."
See also:

20 Feb 02 | Scotland
01 Feb 02 | Scotland
29 Jan 02 | Scotland
15 Jan 02 | Scotland
13 Jan 02 | Scotland
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