After a prolonged period of development, the announcement in August of the Board of Directors for Scotland's Futures Forum has finally seen this body come to fruition. The development of the Forum has included a substantial period of investigating overseas models, canvassing MSPs and running a conference involving 140 representatives from a number of sectors. The Forum was created by the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body and is resourced through the deployment of existing parliamentary staff.
The ultimate goal of the Forum is to undertake long-term strategic thinking, and, through co-operation with experts in all aspects of Scottish life, to identify and respond to the opportunities and problems facing Scotland over the next 10 years. It is hoped that the Forum will help to stimulate debate about these issues, leading to a modern, progressive and prosperous nation.
The Board is constituted of leaders from both the public and private sectors. George Reid, the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, will chair it. Other members include: John Elvidge, the Executive's Permanent Secretary; Alex Neil, MSP; Tim O'Shea, Principal of Edinburgh University; Susan Rice, Chief Executive of Lloyds TSB Scotland; Sarah Boyack, MSP; Margaret Ford, Chair of English Partnerships and Campbell Christie, former General Secretary of the STUC. The Board has volunteered its services for two years and its members' range of experience should bring a fresh approach to identifying and tackling Scotland's issues.
Unsurprisingly, a strong driving force behind the work of the Forum will be the development of Scotland's economy. Suggestions for issues to be considered include not only finance in the public sector, but tourist industry growth, conditions for attracting entrepreneurs, a demographic study of Scotland's workforce and developing intellectual property rights. Much of the work of the new think-tank is hoped to benefit Scottish business and Mr Reid emphasises that "the future belongs to those who prepare for it now". This raises the question: how best can Scotland's businesses prepare for Scotland's future?
While the issues considered by the Forum are intended to extend beyond the four-year policy cycle of Parliament, the Forum has no responsibility for developing policy in the areas it considers. Mr Reid sees the role of the Forum to assist in providing information for policy debates. However, he has said: "It is not for the Forum to make policy. What the Forum does is pose questions, and it's up to the politicians to provide the answers."
If the Forum is to be effective in facilitating Scotland's economic growth, it must be aware of what current problems the economy faces in order to foresee the problems likely to arise in the future. Therefore, a key aspect to the Forum's work must be collaboration with businesses of all sizes across Scotland. Although there are private sector representatives on the Board in the shape of Susan Rice and Margaret Ford, it is not the role of these Board members to represent Scottish businesses on the Forum and if there are issues that companies wish to see on the think tank's agenda, it is imperative that they raise them directly with the Forum. Companies would do well to maintain awareness of the Forum and ensure that it engages directly with the business community. However, only time will tell to what extent these chosen few are able prophesise the issues relevant to Scotland's profits.
Hazel Moffat is an associate specialising in public law with commercial law firm Shepherd and Wedderburn. 0131 473 5423