Jo Armstrong

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Jo Armstrong is well connected in political, financial and academic circles.

The Fraser of Allander Institute profile of Jo Armstrong states: 'After almost 20 years working as a business economist, holding senior posts in the UK's financial and government sectors, Jo is now operating as an independent consultant. She was a Policy Adviser to the First Minister of the Scottish Parliament providing both financial as well as economic advice. Whilst an employee of the Royal Bank of Scotland plc, she established two new analytical units. The Business Economics Unit provides microeconomic analysis in support of bank lending and the Project Finance Analysis Unit is responsible for undertaking cashflow and risk analysis in support of major project finance deals world-wide. Jo was project manager to the Allander Series team and was one of the contributors to the accompanying book'.[1]

Jo Armstrong and Scottish Water

Fraser Allander Institute and Scottish Council Foundation

Jo Armstrong has managed to locate herself as a key strategic player in the lobby to change the ownership model of Scottish Water. In 2006 she called for the Privatisation of Scottish Water in a book, 'Raising the Return: Scotlands Public Assets' co-published by the Fraser of Allander Institute and the Scottish Council Foundation.

The Four pamphlets in the book consider the following

  • "1. The nature of the challenge facing the Scottish Executive to show its Efficient Government Initiative is delivering its promises;
  • 2. How activity and productivity in Scotland’s health services have adjusted to the 50% real increase in centralised funding since devolution;
  • 3. The reasons why it is desirable to revisit Scottish Water’s ownership structure as a publicly-owned monopoly-supplier of water and sewage services;
  • 4. The challenges facing Scotland’s civil service to develop and deliver policy whilst remaining part of the Whitehall civil service" [2].

Her central assertion, in her re-visitation of the Scottish Water ownership model, was that the system of calculating the block grant from the UK government to the Scottish Executive (known as the Barnett Formula) did not include any funding for Scottish Water. Thus meaning the Scottish Executive were opening themselves to an open ended risk in promising to fund Scottish Water over the long term; given how, at some point, the block grant could decrease or if Scottish Water was not as efficient as expected. And, moreover, that if the Executive was to continue giving loans to Scottish Water the money to pay for it had, and would continue to, come out of the budgets of other public services [3].

David Hume Institute

Her focus on Scottish Water did not end with "Raising the Return: Scotland's Public Assets", however. In 2007 the David Hume Institute commissioned her to undertake research considering how to use competitive and/or regulatory pressures to drive efficiencies in the Scottish public sector. The report, titled "Improving productivity in Scotland’s public services", has applied what Ms Armstrong perceives to be the progress and improved efficiencies by Scottish Water wrought by the strict regulatory pressure of the Water Industry Commission for Scotland.

According to Jeremy Peat, Director of the David Hume Institute, the research undertaken by Jo Armstrong "evolved from a seminar delivered for the David Hume Institute by Sir Ian Byatt, Chairman of the Water Industry Commission for Scotland and the subsequent paper by Sir Ian that we published. It was evident that there were lessons to be learned across the Scottish public sector from the experience with water – and obvious that productivity in public services would be increasingly important as demands upon these services increased while public sector resources became scarce" [4]. In short her position in this paper is that the practices and policies resulting in economic efficiencies within the Scottish Water Industry can and indeed should be applied across other sectors of the public sector.

The ideology and premise of the research undertaken by Jo Armstrong, alongside those outlined above, is indicated by the remarks of David Simpson, he stated how

"Governments’ efforts in the past to achieve such an improvement have been hampered by what has been perceived as the ineffectiveness of the public sector bodies delivering the services. The culture of the public sector is noted for its unnecessary bureaucracy, and for its lack of focus on new and better ways of doing things or on improving customer service. Despairing of any improvement, governments have often resorted to privatisation, or to arrangements such as PFI and PPP".

He then goes on to say that, "however, the recent experience of the water industry in Scotland, a public sector monopoly, has demonstrated that improvements in the delivery of public services can be achieved without privatisation. In this industry, innovation and customer service have improved and costs have been reduced. Bills are coming down" [5].

What David Simpson does not make clear is how the Scottish Water Industry has commercialised its operations, still within a public sector ownership model: for a conderation of this commercialisation see [6] [7]. The research undertaken by Jo Armstrong thats being reported here considers how these commercial practices can be applied in other areas of public services. In particular in the areas of Social Housing, Personal Care and Waste Management.

Consequently, her research in this field has been used by others in Scottish public life as evidence of the need to commercialise and liberalise public services in Scotland.

Bill Jamieson,executive director of The Scotsman, wrote how Jo Armstrong's "research draws on the recent experience of the Scottish water sector, where the introduction of effective economic regulation and management incentives has benefited Scotland's public-service users. The research applies lessons learned from the water industry to three quite disparate public services - social housing, personal care and waste management. It demonstrates that common themes are to be found in all three which point the way to improving the efficiency of delivery of public services more generally".

"Competition in product or service delivery, Armstrong observes, appears a necessary condition for the efficient allocation of resources. "Competition - or even the threat of competition - leads to increased efficiency, be it applied in the public or the private sector," she said. "Critically, it offers the opportunity to benefit financially from discovering new, innovative and cost-effective ways of delivering goods and services." More contentiously, she adds that "it is not necessary to have private ownership to ensure service provi-sion is efficient and what consumers want" [8].

A few months later Bill Jamieson wrote how "The emerging critique of the need for greater productivity and efficiency in public spending has been most ably set out in a paper by the public finance economist Jo Armstrong for the David Hume Institute. I wrote warmly about this paper here some months ago. It showed how productivity gains obtained at Scottish Water, if applied to other public services in Scotland, could release annual savings of £1.9bn. This paper is a vital starting point for anyone engaged in public policy in Scotland. Its recommendations are an urgent but now insufficient first step" [9].

While not explicitly adovocating private ownership in the David Hume Institute report, it is apprent that if the example of Scottish Water is to be replicated it will certainly mean an increase in providers and practicioners from the private sector.

The coalition formed to fund the project and to steer the direction of the research is as follows.


Water Industry Commission for Scotland, Audit Scotland and The Office of Fair Trading.

Support was also provided in practical form by

Shepherd and Wedderburn and DTZ Consulting and Research.

The steering Committee was as follows

Scotland on Sunday 'Think Tank

In the run up to the 207 Scottish Parliamentary Election the Scottish Newspaper, Scotland on Sunday, formed a think tank. Made up of, what Scotland on Sunday percieved as some of Scotland's 'finest minds'. They wrote at gthe time,

"To prepare for the forthcoming Holyrood elections, Scotland on Sunday has broken fresh ground in its effort to raise the bar of political debate. Over the past two months, a select group of policy experts, thinkers and business leaders, who between them represent some of Scotland's finest minds, have been developing a radical manifesto for change. Chosen by Scotland on Sunday for their intelligence and their passion, we asked them to come up with the radical policies they believe are needed to turn Scotland into a country better equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century" [11].

Jo Armstrong was one of these so-called 'finest minds'. Out of 10 recommendations, perhaps unsurprisingly the privatisation of Scottish Water was one of these 'innovative' policy proposals. Out of these 'fine minds' Ms Armstrong was the most prominent amongst them in water policy matters. If in agreement with such a proposal it perhaps indicates her true desire for the future ownership and management of Scottish Water, which is one that differs, albeit not to much, from the proposal to mutualise that she proposed in her pamphlet for the Frase of Allender Institute and the Scottish Council Foundation.

The proposal made was to "Privatise Scottish Water. The national water company is worth approximately GBP 2bn. Yet alone among water companies in Britain it remains in the public sector; a sacred cow of Scotland's politicians. Gordon Brown is on the hunt for state assets to sell off, conscious of the need to keep taxes down while boosting spending. Scottish ministers should follow his lead. Floating Scottish Water would give the nation a one-off national windfall which could be used, perhaps, as an endowment for our universities or to pay for that new bullet train. Privatising the company would also improve the quality of service. The company could borrow funds to pay for improve-ments in infrastructure and, under market conditions, it would be forced to seek the best deal for the cus-tomer - us" [12].

The People involved in the Scotland on Sunday Think tank were as follows

  • Jeane Freeman Former chief special adviser to First Minister Jack McConnell, and now an independent policy consultant
  • Gordon Archer Former chief special adviser to SNP leader John Swinney, and now an environmental entrepreneur
  • John McLaren Political economist and former special adviser to First Minister Henry McLeish
  • Ian Ritchie Non-executive director of Scottish Enterprise and Channel 4 Television. He was awarded a CBE in 2003 for services to enterprise and education.
  • Jane Saren Independent public affairs, policy and business consultant
  • Maureen McGinn Chief Executive, Laidlaw Youth Project, which funds activities to help vulnerable children
  • Phil Hanlon Professor of Public Health at Glasgow University and an adviser to the Scottish Executive
  • Adam Bruce Chief Executive of Airtricity UK, which develops wind farms
  • Jo Armstrong Independent economic consultant and former adviser to the Scottish Executive.
  • Jim McCormick Director of the Scottish Council Foundation, an independent political thinktank.
  • Pete Irvine Impresario responsible for Edinburgh's Hogmanay Festival, the opening of the Scottish Parliament and the Glasgow Art Fair
  • Graham Watson Director of the Scottish Institute of Sport Foundation

Centre For Public Policy for the Regions

Jo Armstrong alongside colleagues, John Mclaren and Richard Harris, In November 2008 wrote a paper reviewing the pressures on the 2008 Scottish Budget affecting the years until 2011 [13].

In the paper they wrote how..."Given the tightness of the current budget from which to find funds that might help counter the negative impacts of the growing recession, what alternatives sources exist?"

True to form both Jo Armstrong and John Mclaren, suggested to once again look at the ownership model of Scotttish Water. This time they did not call for Privatisation, as they did for the Scotland on Sunday Think Tank of the 'finest minds' in Scotland. Rather they said the Howatt Report otherwise known as The Scottish Government (2006), Choices for a Purpose: Review of Scottish Executive Budgets: Report of the Budget Review Group "could be revisited and some of the bolder issues discussed therein reconsidered e.g. mutualisation of Scottish Water (possibly releasing around £180 million per annum)" and one that would affect education in fundamental ways a discussion on "moving to fixed 3 year degree courses etc" [14].

Other Activity


Jo Armstrong has also involved herself in other areas of concern to the Scottish people. For instance the area of Public Private Partnerships (PPP'S) is one that she has written on. She appears to be a proponent of PPP despite evidence that they are a bad deal for the people of Scotland see refs below [15] [16] [17] [18] [19].

She herself says that she has had,

'Key roles:
  • advising on the development of partnerships and projects
  • ensuring financial viability & acceptability to the private sector
  • assuring value for money & public sector affordability'.

This advice has been given to both the Scottish Executive and the Royal Bank of Scotland; one of the main beneficiaries of PPP's. Her relationship with the Royal Bank of Scotland encompassed,

'The provision of analysis and advice in support of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s Structured Finance deals covering
  • PFI/PPPs for UK hospitals, roads, prisons and housing
  • gas and coal-fired power projects worldwide
  • oil, mineral and petrochemical installations world-wide
  • leisure and hotel projects in the US and the UK' [20].

Despite this business relationship with the Royal Bank she also took on an, 'an initial review of the Scottish Executive’s experience of, and role in Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) in Scotland reporting to the Scottish Cabinet through the Minister for Finance' [21]. The then Scottish Executive saw no issue with Jo Armstrong doing work for both them and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Yet the Royal Bank of Scotland were, and no doubt still are, looking to profit from PPP contracts that the Scottish Executive were putting out to tender.

Glasgow Housing Stock Transfer

Another contentious issue that Jo Armstrong has been involved in is the Glasgow Housing Stock Transfer from the council to the Private Glasgow Housing Association, an organisation that is effectively financed by the Banks. This plan met with serious opposition from a great deal of people in Glasgow. Not least because of a bafflement of why the debt write off and the soft loans and grants could not have been provided to a council landlord. Unlike Armstrong, who will not nor never be affected, they also worried that this would lead to a deterioration of the housing stock and a loss of democratic control over housing in Glasgow.

According to Armstrong her role incorporated;

'Negotiating the Scottish Executive’s funding package with the Glasgow Housing Association (GHA) and its private sector banks to secure the transfer of 80,000 houses from Glasgow city council’s ownership. The funding packaged secured the write-off of £900 million of public sector debt, raised £700 million of grants and soft loans and £700 million of private sector debt to contribute to a £6 billion redevelopment programme. This involved extensive liaison and negotiations with the Scottish Executive’s law officers and senior counsel, the funders’ lawyers and the many technical advisors working on the project of this complexity' [22].


  1. Fraser of Allander Institute, Profile of Jo Armstrong, Accessed 3rd November 2006,
  2. Jo Armstrong, Scottish Council Foundation, Fraser Allander Institute, Raising the Return: Scotland's Public Assets, Summary Document, Accessed 9th December 2008,
  3. Jo Armstrong, Scottish Council Foundation, Fraser Allander Institute, Raising the Return: Scotland's Public Assets, Summary Document, Accessed 9th December 2008,
  4. David Hume Institute Improving productivity in Scotland’s public services A Research Project (November 2007), (p1) Accessed 9th December 2008
  5. David Hume Institute Improving productivity in Scotland’s public services A Research Project (November 2007), (p2) Accessed 9th December 2008
  6. Public Interest Research Network (PIRN) Water Report Scottish Water The drift to privatisation and how democratisation could improve efficiency and lower costs, Accessed 9th December 2008,
  7. Kane and Russell Is Anything Public Anymore? Accessed 9th December 2008,
  8. Bill Jamieson, The Scotsman, 'Between The Lines: Productivity: how the public sector could learn from Scottish Water', (November 21 2007), (p37),
  9. Bill Jamieson, The Scotsman Crunch is coming for our 'free' services (6th April 2008), Accessed 10 December 2008,
  10. David Hume Institute Improving productivity in Scotland’s public services A Research Project (November 2007), (p1) Accessed 9th December 2008
  11. Les Snowdon, Scotland on Sunday, 'Think Tank: We asked the finest minds in Scotland for big ideas to transform the nation... this is the result', (April 1st 2007),
  12. Les Snowdon, Scotland on Sunday, 'Think Tank: We asked the finest minds in Scotland for big ideas to transform the nation... this is the result', (April 1st 2007),
  13. Armstrong, Mclaren and Harris, Centre for Public Policy and The Regions THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT’S 2008 BUDGET - UPDATE, A Briefing (November 2008), Accessed 11 December 2008
  14. Armstrong, Mclaren and Harris, Centre for Public Policy and The Regions THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT’S 2008 BUDGET - UPDATE, A Briefing (November 2008), Accessed 11 December 2008
  15. Hall and Lobina The relative efficiency of private and public sector water, Accessed 9th December 2008
  16. [ At what Cost? A UNISON report on the aggregate costs of PFI/PPP projects in Scotland and some suggestions on a way forward], Accessed 9th December 2008
  17. Alyson Pollock Guardian (January 26th 2006), Accessed 9th December 2008
  18. The Centre for International Public Health Policy The impact of PFI on Scotland’s NHS: a briefing, Accessed 9th December 2008
  19. IMF International Monetary Fund Public-Private Partnerships (March 12, 2004) Accessed 9th December 2009,
  20. Jo Armstrong Home Page, Accessed 9th December 2008,
  21. Jo Armstrong Home Page, Accessed 9th December 2008,
  22. Jo Armstrong Home Page, Accessed 9th December 2008,