SENIOR environmental figures have raised alarm bells about the Scottish Government’s economic recovery advisory group, claiming it lacks the green credentials necessary for the job.

The group was announced last month, with Benny Higgins, executive chairman of Buccleuch Estates and former chief executive of Tesco Bank, appointed as chair. Other members include former economist Anton Muscatelli, principal of the University of Glasgow, outgoing STUC chair Grahame Smith and leading English economist Professor John Kay.

The only environmental expert on the group is Dieter Helm, an Oxford professor of economic policy who has been critical of renewable energy.

Announcing plans back in April, Nicola Sturgeon said the group would advise the government on actions to “build a fairer, greener and more equal society” as part of its post-Covid recovery. But the Sunday National understands that “appalled” environmental figures are now considering setting up a parallel advisory panel, to counter the perceived gaps.

Richard Dixon said that the Scottish Government now had a “unique opportunity” in coming months to turn rhetoric around the green economy into action.

“Nicola Sturgeon has talked about a green economy, about wellbeing economy,” he added. “But if you look at the advisory group, its made up of a bunch of academic economists and financiers. There’s nobody on it who knows anything about wellbeing and the only person in terms of the green economy is an Oxford academic who doesn’t like renewables.

“Once lockdown is over there will be lots of companies who only exist because of money from the UK or the Scottish Government, either directly or through the furlough scheme. Almost uniquely in our history the government has a huge bit of leverage over our economy.

“If we are bold enough, we can use that in its choices of which parts of the economy to stimulate and what policies to put in place to create something quite different going forward.”

Oil and Gas UK has warned of up to 30,000 jobs being lost over the next 18 months and last week Boris Johnston said Westminster is working on a support package.

However Dixon claimed that ongoing support should require firm dates from transition from fossil fuels to renewables to be written into agreements.

“My concern from looking at that advisory group is that it will aim to get the oil industry back to where it was,” he said. “But Scotland could have tens of billions to spend in terms of quantitative easing. Do we put that into the oil industry as it was, or do we use that to transition to renewables?”

His concerns were echoed by Deborah Long, chief executive of Scottish Environment Link. Almost two weeks ago the consortium, which represents 35 environmental organisations, wrote to Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, to raise concerns about the lack of environmental expertise on the group.

“The green economy is central but the other key areas are around social justice and nature recovery,” she said, pointing out that research showed a clear link between the destruction of natural habitats and the increased risks of pandemics. She confirmed that people in the sector were “definitely talking about” the possibility of setting up an alternative advisory panel.

Professor James Curran, the former chief executive of Scottish Environmental Projection Agency (SEPA), also shared concerns. Post-Covid economic recovery policies must reduce carbon emissions, promote climate adaptation, reduce pollution, reduce consumption of natural resources, and improve biodiversity, he said. “If they do that, then we can look forward to a recovery that will create a happier, healthier, and more resilient Scotland.”

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “I’m not convinced this panel of economic advisers will offer anything other than a return to business as usual, although I welcome the appointment of a senior trade unionist among them. After all, it is led by the chair of Buccleugh Estates – you don’t get much more establishment than that.

“Unfortunately, this week we’ve seen emergency support for private schools and landlords, the SQA embedding inequality into its moderation of this year’s grades and a postponement of low emission zones at a time when people’s lungs need to be protected more than ever. All of these things contribute to a less fair, less green and less equal Scotland, whatever the First Minister might say. We should build back better, not return to the mistakes of the past.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Advisory Group on Economic Recovery draws upon leading expertise from Scotland and further afield to provide independent advice to Ministers on how we can rapidly rebuild a resilient economy in a way that supports Scotland’s wellbeing and helps us to create a greener, net zero future in Scotland.

“The group’s remit refers specifically to net zero. It is actively considering climate change issues and it will engage with a range of groups in the course of its work.”