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Another worthy report into how to boost enterprise, says Scot-Buzz editor Bill Jamieson – and another predictable conclusion: set up another business quango.

Do we really need another one?

How can innovation and entrepreneurship in Scotland be improved? What is our problem, exactly? And what policies should the Scottish government and its agencies pursue?

To find the answers a team from Scotland took part in a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme (REAP). It has now produced a 50 page report entitled “Increasing Innovation-Driven Entrepreneurship in Scotland through Collective Enterprise”.

It purports to describe “Scotland’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and what could be done to improve it”. There is an opportunity, it says, “to redefine ourselves as a nation of dynamic and high achieving entrepreneurs” busy “targeting global opportunities” and “pursuing innovation as a key driver of sales growth”.

With such a promising if clunky bureaucratic title and impressive international study credentials, this would surely produce some innovative and entrepreneurial ideas.

Sadly the result is one of the most cliché-infested regurgitations of long familiar problems ever churned out by Scotland’s leading enterprise agency. What spark of original thinking ever informed this exercise is snuffed out by a prose style best described as Dead on Arrival.

A flavour of the challenges presented in this 50-page report can be gained by its recommendations. These are:

  • “Improve networking linkages through education in entrepreneurship and management”
  • “Improve access to growth finance”
  • “Improve skills for growth through provision of internationally excellent education in entrepreneurship and management”
  • “Leverage role of universities to improve entrepreneurship”
  • “Improve innovation-driven entrepreneurship through positive communications strategy”.

Finally, it proposes an independent “non-profit stakeholder-led organisation” is set up to  pursue these aims, or, as the report puts it, “This backbone organisation will work across all stakeholders to ensure ongoing alignment of vision, delivery of mutually re-enforcing actions, continuous communications and an agreed monitoring framework.”

Phew! Can this really promote innovation and entrepreneurship in Scotland? What is our problem, exactly? To find the answers the REAP Scotland team participated in four “multinational residential workshops” alongside teams from Finland, New Zealand, and regions of China, Spain and Mexico.

Sadly it seems to have spent most of the time munching the MIT Buzzword Dictionary. There is more – much more – of all this engaging, networking, stake holding,  vision-aligning,  network building, incubator monitoring and innovation-driving.

But insightful? Original? Revelatory? Search in vain.

Scotland already has a range of business schools and facilities for campus entrepreneurialism.

Problems of access to growth finance are already well documented following the biggest banking crisis in more than a century. That this crisis was due in part to excessive and indiscriminate supply of finance to business is not examined, nor are remedies suggested.

The need to improve business skills – indeed skills at all levels – is already well documented and skills training is increasingly funded.

A “positive communications strategy” might usefully begin by running a buzzword Geiger-counter over further publications like this and reducing their length by at least half.

As for the establishment of  yet another organisation to “work across all stakeholders” and “ensure ongoing alignment of vision”, Scotland is littered with organisations devoted to  the promotion of  innovation and entrepreneurialism, not least Scottish Enterprise itself and its Highlands and Islands counterpart. Do we seriously need another one? And what would it do, exactly, that would be better than, or different to, existing organisations?

The report from REAP, comprising  Donna Chisholm (Highland and Islands Enterprise), Simon Gray (AWS Ocean Energy), Ian Ritchie (Iomart), Professor Jonathan  Levie (University of Strathclyde), Jonathan Harris (Editor, Young Company Finance) and Clive Reeves (Scottish Enterprise) is not totally without value. There are some useful figures on Scotland’s business universe and how it compares with the UK overall.

But there is little examination of two findings presented by the report: (1) why do SMEs in Scotland appear to have little ambition and are content to remain ar or around their current size? And (2) why does business R&D in Scotland significantly lag the UK (0.59 per cent of GDP compared with 1.09 per cent)?

These are the issues that need to be explored, together with other approaches rather more ambitious and broad-minded than this focus on government agency infrastructure. What about, for example, a larger exemption from business rates to help small businesses to expand and grow, and a scrapping of Capital Gains Tax on small business investment?

We have big problems in Scotland.

And here’s my intensive eco-system accelerator engagement conclusion: we need bigger solutions than this.