Fairness tops First Minister's priorities

Sturgeon aims for ‘inclusive society’ in new economic strategy

Sturgeon and beerFirst Minister Nicola Sturgeon today set out her ambition to create a more inclusive society when she unveiled the government’s plans for the economy.

Focusing again on her “fairness and equality” agenda, Ms Sturgeon attacked the Westminster coalition’s austerity programme, claiming it has had a negative impact on economic growth equal to £1,600 per person.

“The Scottish Government wants to create a stable and balanced economy that is outward looking, confident, innovative, based on the core strengths of our people and supported by investment.

“Today’s strategy draws on international evidence and is endorsed by independent experts. It offers a vision, not just of our economy, but also of our society, which I believe will command wide support from businesses, the trade unions, the third sector and many others. And it sets out the policies and measures which will help to achieve that vision.

“By taking action to increase exports, build on our historic reputation for innovation, invest in infrastructure from child care facilities to broadband and create more inclusive growth through fair work we can take Scotland’s economic competitiveness to the next level.

“We want to see economic growth that is inclusive, innovative and fairly distributed. For too long, our economy has been held back by rising inequality as a result of successive generations of Westminster economic policy.

“I have been clear that a key priority for this Government is to tackle the blight of inequality, which serves as a destructive social and economic spiral.”

Ms Sturgeon, speaking during a visit to Calnex Solutions in Linlithgow, called upon recent research claiming that had equality and economic growth been confronted with equal importance, then UK GDP would now be approximately £100 billion higher.

“That is a proposition that simply cannot be ignored,” she said. “That failure of Westminster’s economic policy to properly address inequality – and the resultant loss to economic growth – has merely been compounded by the more recent austerity policies pursued by the UK Government and which the Scottish Government is deeply opposed to.

“We are using every lever and platform at our disposal to mitigate the effects of austerity. In Scotland, the employment level is at a record high whilst unemployment is it its lowest since early 2009.

“Female participation in the labour market has also increased to reach record levels and youth unemployment is at its lowest in five years. We will continue to press the UK Government for full devolution of unemployment support to help us do even better.

“The Scottish Government’s policy of inclusive growth is already being recognised internationally by economists and academics.”

Ms Sturgeon yesterday visited Williams Bros brewery in Alloa (pictured above) which is expanding into the Far East and said it was an example of her plans to build a strong exporting nation.

Reacting to today’s announcement…

Hugh AitkenHugh Aitken, CBI Scotland Director, said:

“Scotland’s economy is continuing to grow at a steady pace but there are a number of challenges we face, like the effect of low oil prices on the North Sea and sluggish growth in the Eurozone.

“The Government’s economic strategy rightly prioritises making Scotland more competitive by investing in infrastructure, education and apprenticeships.

“To make sure growth benefits everyone, we need to boost productivity by fostering investment and making sure our workforce get the skills they need to compete in a globalised world.

“Businesses will also welcome the focus on making it easier for them to access growth finance and support to sell their products and services to new markets around the world.”

On the living wage, Mr Aitken said:

“Living wages can be a useful guide for those businesses able to pay more but individual business circumstances vary hugely.

“We already have an effective universal wage floor, the National Minimum Wage, which enjoys strong support from the business community.”

On the use of zero hours contracts, Mr Aitken said:

“Flexible contracts offer an important source of job creation that supports business growth and employees who need to manage different responsibilities. The range of options on offer in the UK is why we are continuing to create thousands of new jobs, and have a high employment rate and lower unemployment than many other competitor countries.”

Andy WilloxAndy Willox, the Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) Scottish policy convenor, said: “The FSB has long argued that more needs to be done to ensure that the economic recovery is felt in economies, businesses and households right across Scotland. Despite a string of economic regeneration strategies over recent decades, too many of our communities have been left behind.  The Scottish Government’s publication sets out bold aspirations to address this, but it will require a lot of detailed, practical work to turn these admirable intentions into real improvements on the ground.

“A focus on digital infrastructure is to be welcomed: we must treat superfast broadband as a utility, as crucial as electricity, water or roads.  Further, securing the Small Business Bonus scheme will continue to give many of our members a real advantage.  The challenge now, of course, is to institute wider reforms of the business rates system so that it fairly reflects how business is done in the 21st century.

“A successful economic strategy is designed for the economy we have, not the one policymakers want.  We would therefore caution against the relentless chase of foreign direct investment and extra state support for a small selection of favoured hand-picked firms. Further, Scottish Government Ministers may wish to focus more tightly on delivery – too many well-meaning initiatives suffer because of clumsy implementation.”

David LonsdaleDavid Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “We would though have liked to have seen a stronger emphasis on keeping down the cost of doing business and the cost of living.

“The retail industry continues to undergo profound change at a time when retail sales have proved testing and shop prices are falling. Responding to this change will require firms to invest in IT infrastructure, a higher skilled workforce and revamped stores and warehouses. This is challenging at the best of times without retailers also having to fork out more on costs under government influence.

“Business rates, which need to be fundamentally reformed, are set to increase once again from April. Planning application fees have risen by 25% over the past two years, and water and sewerage charges are set to be levied on empty shops and commercial premises. On top of this politicians are keen to increase the national minimum wage and introduce a living wage.

“At the same time greater certainty is needed over how disposable incomes will be affected by the proposed replacement of council tax and the new Scottish rate of income tax.”

Dan MacDonaldDan Macdonald, founder of independent business organisation, N-56, said: “We are delighted to see this new economic strategy not only serve to boost economic growth but also serve to tackle inequality. Inequality has a negative impact on long-term economic growth and prosperity and the IMF has found that lower income inequality correlates with faster and more durable growth. It is therefore not only morally sensible but also economic common sense to tackle inequality.

“In order to deliver this economic strategy will require a partnership between the Scottish Government, business community, public sector and civic society,  signing up to implement it. And hence we are issuing a call to action to urge these sectors to sign up collectively to deliver this.”

Here is a summary of the Scottish Government’s Economic Strategy and Internationalisation.

  • Investing in our people, infrastructure and assets through
  • preparing young people for employment through widening access to higher education and extending a wide range of high quality learning through the implementation of Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce;
  • the establishment of a Scottish Business Development Bank to work directly with small and medium-sized enterprises and the financial markets to support businesses with high growth potential in Scotland;
  • providing £10 million in 2015-16 through the Local Energy Investment Fund to invest on behalf of communities in commercial renewables schemes; and
  • publishing a refresh of Scotland’s Oil and Gas Strategy, which will have a strong focus on the structure and capability of Scotland’s oil and gas supply chain.
  • We will foster a culture of Innovation by:
  • establishing a new Ministerial-led Innovation Forum;
  • supporting the network of Innovation Centres to apply knowledge and innovation from our academic research base into business;
  • piloting Innovation and Investment Hubs at key global locations.
  • Promoting innovation in the public sector which can support the economy.
  • We will promote Inclusive Growth through:
  • driving forward improvements in educational outcomes in Scotland’s most disadvantaged communities with an Attainment Scotland Fund of £100 million;
  • establishment of a Fair Work Convention to draw on best practise and facilitate a joint approach with our partners;
  • support for a more diverse workforce by removing barriers to employment – for example, lack of childcare or support for caring responsibilities; and
  • introducing the Scottish Business Pledge, which aims to develop a partnership between the Scottish Government and businesses.
  • To enable Scotland to take advantage of International opportunities we will:
  • develop a new Trade and Investment Strategy; and
  • establish One Scotland Partnerships, which will set clear trade and innovation goals for specific international markets and ensure that activity is co-ordinated to maximise impact and make the best use of resources.
  • publish an updated International Framework, which will set the context for how the Government, its Agencies and Public Bodies engage externally to promote Scotland – its economy and broader interests – and influence the world around us.

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