Politics

MSPs set to grill Willie Watt, chair of £2bn state bank, over vanishing CEO Eilidh Mactaggart

THE chair of Scotland’s state-owned investment bank is to be hauled before MSPs to explain the sudden and mysterious resignation of its chief executive.

Holyrood’s finance and administration committee is set to summon Willie Watt to explain the departure of Eilidh Mactaggart from the £2billion organisation last week.

Ms Mactaggart left the £235,000-a-year post with immediate effect on Friday after just 18 months in charge, but the bank refused to say why she had done so.

SNP finance secretary Kate Forbes than repeatedly refused to tell parliament what the bank had told her about it, despite questioning by MSPs on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Although £2bn of public money is going into the Scottish National Investment Bank over 10 years, and Scottish Ministers are the sole shareholders, Ms Forbes said the resignation was solely a matter for Ms Mactaggart and the bank’s board.

To break the wall of silence, Tory MSP Liz Smith today wrote to the finance committee’s SNP convenver Kenny Gibson, asking him to invite SNIB chairman WIllie Watt for questioning.

It is understood Mr Gibson promptly agreed to the request, teeing up a confrontation between the parliament’s spending watchdog committee and the bank. 

The SNIB, which went live in November 2020, uses public seed money to support green jobs as the country makes a just transition to a net zero economy

It has already disbursed £200m to 13 projects and employs 50 staff.

Nicola Sturgeon was today dragged into the growing row about the lack of transparency when she was questioned by Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross at FMQs.

Ms Sturgeon also refused to say what she knew about Ms Mactaggart’s departure.

She said: “I am not going to go into the confidential details of anybody’s employment situation in the chamber. 

“That issue is not a matter for Scottish Government ministers; it is a matter for the board of the Scottish National Investment Bank. 

“Ministers had no input into it, although we were told earlier in February that the chief executive would be leaving the bank imminently. 

“Scottish Government ministers have the responsibility to ensure that the Scottish National Investment Bank is performing well. 

“It is performing exceptionally well, and it is perhaps the most important economic initiative that has been taken over the past few years in Scotland.”

Mr Ross reminded Ms Sturgeon that the Scottish Ministerial Code says information should not be withheld from the public unclear there are “clear and lawful” reasons for doing so.

Asked if there were lawful reasons, Ms Sturgeon said there was a duty to respect “confidentiality and duty of care”, and repeated the bank was performing well.

Mr Ross said the timing of the resignation was “all very suspicious” and asked if it was connected to the Scottish Government launching its 10-year economic strategy this week and the chief executive being unwilling to deliver it.

Ms Sturgeon said Ms Mactaggart’s exit was an unrelated “coincidence”.

She said: “Yes, it is a coincidence, and that is clear. The former chief executive of the Scottish National Investment Bank is a private individual. 

“She has opted to resign her post as chief executive of the bank. She is entitled to the duty of care and confidentiality to which any other individual in her circumstances would be entitled. As I think most reasonable people would accept, it would be completely wrong of me, in the chamber of the Scottish Parliament, to breach that confidentiality. 

“I have a duty to ensure that the bank has the right leadership in place and can continue to build on the excellent progress that it is making across its three missions. That, I think, is what is important.”

After FMQs, Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie said that if Ms Mactaggart ws leaving due to personal reasons, MSPs should be told so.

“If the reason for resignation was personal I think everyone would respect that and saying so would end this debate, but if it is related to the function, policy or delivery at the bank then we have a right to know – especially as considerable public sums are at stake,” he said.

The First Minister’s official spokesman later said Ms Sturgeon was aware “In broad terms” why Ms Mactaggart left, but not specifics.

He was unable to explain why Ms Sturgeon knew the reason for Ms Mactaggart’s resignation if it was supposed to be confidential.

The SNIB was asked for comment.

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