Hugh Aitken has lately returned to Scotland after an international business career spanning three decades that took him to the commanding heights of Here he considers the perspectives that his homecoming is enabling him to apply to the transport and logistics needs of the Scottish economy as he takes up the role as director of CBI Scotland.
Mr. Aitken started his presentation by briefly outlining his career with Microsoft Nevada, HP in California Sun Microsystems and Oracle in Scotland. He then outlined the aims of the CBI in Scotland, pointing out that Scottish business wants a successful, strong and prosperous Scotland. The achievement of this requires high quality infrastructure, which is vital for economic prosperity and is essential to attract investment and jobs. In 2014, 99% of companies surveyed said that infrastructure was a key factor in making investment decisions.
The Scottish government has invested in road and rail projects despite the economic downturn and the benefits of this will be felt in the future. Examples are the Borders rail link, the upgrading of the A8, the electrification of the Edinburgh - Glasgow rail line and the new Queensferry Crossing due to open next year.
Mr. Aitken said that it was essential to identify problems early and deliver a solution. However, he pointed out that the political cycle is 5 years or so and with major infrastructure projects, there is often a change of politicians before completion. CBI members have asked for improvements to the A82, the rail link to Glasgow airport, and the improvements to the A9 and A96 roads.
The CBI has developed a manifesto with 12 main points detailing what they are looking for from government. For four of these points, the CBI is asking for government help in achieving them. One problem is that politicians do not know what is required and businesses need to make their needs heard by the politicians. The CBI assists in this process, but individual businesses could do more to help getting the message across.
Productivity is achieved by businesses, not government and business needs to take responsibility for some of the problems they fact. For example, a common complaint is that businesses cannot get enough lorry drivers but the problem is that not enough young people want to become lorry drivers, due to low wages, long hours, poor facilities. As the older generation retires, not enough young people are being trained to take their place.
The problem is that the younger generation is not interested, so how do businesses tackle this problem? It is a simple choice of either attracting more people to become lorry drivers or to consider alternatives to the lorry, for example rail. The lack of good transport infrastructure can pose problems for certain industries or businesses in the remoter parts of the country. As an example, Mr. Aitken cited the problems faced by a salmon farming business on the west coast of Scotland. Feedstuffs for the fish are brought in by road, having come from hull and exports also go by road to Hull. The company would prefer to use a Scottish port, much closer, but the only service available is from Hull.
Turning to the four points that Mr. Aitken mentioned in the CBI manifesto that they are seeking government help in achieving, Mr. Aitken pointed out that these are essential for future growth and prosperity.
There is a need to improve the skill sets of people, so training and education is a requirement. Improved digitalisation is also a requirement, especially where there are still problems with loss of signal and poor internet connections. The country needs an energy plan covering coal, oil, gas and nuclear power. Mr. Aitken pointed out that in 17 years, there have been 14 different energy Ministers.
Looking at logistics, Mr. Aitken pointed out that much can be done to improve links. An example is Prestwick Airport, currently much underused and owned by the Scottish Government. He pointed out that it is currently the only airport in Scotland that is rail connected and he said that logisticians need to be more vociferous in making their voice heard by government. One of the aims of the CBI in Scotland is to promote business and to increase membership, particularly from the SME sector.
After Mr. Aitken's presentation, there was a lively question and answer session, following which the Scottish Regional Chairman presented Mr. Aitken with one of the Scottish Regions engraved glasses as a memento of the evening.
Further information on the CBI in Scotland can be found on their website at:
and the manifesto Mr. Aitken referred to can be found at:
Report by John Fender.
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