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FM takes a dig at Tory record

Sturgeon goes on attack by declaring Scotland ‘pro-business’

Nicola SturgeonFirst Minister Nicola Sturgeon today raised the stakes with Westminster by declaring Scotland to be “the most pro-business government in the UK”.

In an address in London she pointed to the record level of inward investment and the partnership that had been developed with the business community and other stakeholders.

She used the opportunity to have a dig at the ruling Conservative party by declaring her government pro-Europe and stating the SNP’s achievements in raising productivity, an issue that both Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne see as a key to economic growth.

Echoing a favourite phrase of the tycoon Sir Tom Hunter, she said: “One of the advantages that Scotland has is that you can get many of the most important decision makers together in one room at the same time, making decisions quickly with very short lines of decision making to get things done.”

This had led to a sense of” shared purpose, a common endeavour and a common approach, behind some crucial economic problems”, she said.

“Businesses have worked with us and we have sought to work with businesses to get more women and young people into work; to increase research and development; to discuss priorities for infrastructure and skills.

She said many of the companies from overseas that invest in Scotland “undoubtedly see Scotland’s membership of the European Union and the single market as a major selling point and a fundamentally important attribute” and was a reason why the Scottish government will argue strongly for the UK to stay within the EU between now and the proposed referendum.

“But the second point is the one I want to emphasise today. Because I believe that Scotland’s success at attracting inward investment demonstrates something which isn’t widely enough recognised. For the last eight years, the Scottish Government has been the most consistently pro-business government anywhere in the UK.”

She said this approach had led to some “good results in tough economic times” and she highlighted productivity as a good example.  The UK government is pushing new measures, including new planning guidelines, to increase productivity which is also a concern of Bank of England governor Mark Carney.

Ms Sturgeon said: “Since 2007, Scotland’s productivity gap with the rest of the UK has narrowed from 7 per cent to 2 per cent. Of course, we still have work to do – there is still a gap, and we’re still far behind our European neighbours so catching up with the UK is not the limit of our ambitions, but nonetheless the improvement there has been marked.

“And that’s why every element of our revised economic strategy is focussed on raising productivity.

“For example, we’ve made a big investment in skills – in our college infrastructure and in our universities. Scotland has more world-class universities, per head of population, than any other country in the world except for Switzerland. Partly because of that, the Office of National Statistics found last year that Scotland has the most highly educated workforce in Europe. That’s an incredible asset for future economic growth.”

She also noted Scotland’s focus on innovation and investment in research and development which have led to the setting up of innovation centres.

“We are investing in infrastructure. There are major improvements to the Glasgow to Edinburgh train line taking place at this moment. They are part of a bigger programme of rail and road investment which will further enhance connections between all of Scotland’s cities.

“We are working hard to establish more direct air links between Scotland and other important centres but also to improve connectivity for Scotland to and through London, which is why the debate about the additional runway in London, although we tend not to get into the details of where it should be, is nevertheless very important to us.

“All of this work has had an impact. I’ve already spoken about productivity and inward investment, but there have been other successes. The value of our exports has increased by 20 per cent in the most recent three years for which figures are available. We have higher employment and economic activity rates than the UK as a whole. In some areas – for example youth employment and women’s employment – we’re among the best performing economies not just in the UK, but anywhere in the EU.”

Taking another swipe at the Conservative government, she said: “There’s a lot of attention being given to the idea of a northern powerhouse at the moment. There’s a perception that it is good for business to be able to look outside London to a place with good infrastructure, with high quality universities, and a strong focus on growth, employment and the business environment. I can’t comment on whether the UK government’s plans for the north of England will match their rhetoric. I hope that they do – greater prosperity in every part of the UK benefits all of us.

“But what I can say without a shadow of a doubt is there is already a northern powerhouse in the UK and it’s called Scotland.

“We’re already the most prosperous part of the country outside of London. And we’ve got the people, the natural resources, the research base and the international reputation to achieve greater success in the future.

“We are a more cost effective place to do business than London. Some estimates put that at 30 to 40 per cent more cost effective and that crucially doesn’t come at the cost of quality. We don’t compromise on the quality of the proposition

“And for those of you who question our desire for the Scottish Parliament to have more powers – it is to give us the levers to make our economy more powerful.

“Now, the extent to which the Scottish Government champions enterprise, sometimes still surprises people in London. It’s a mark of how Westminster politics operates, that being a social democrat is sometimes portrayed as being anti-business. The opposite is the case for the Scottish Government – the belief that underpins our entire economic approach, is that there’s no contradiction at all between a fairer society and a more prosperous economy, in fact in my view the two things are inextricably linked.

“That view has a great deal of economic credibility. Mark Carney highlighted last year the “growing evidence that relative equality is good for growth”. The OECD has published a wealth of evidence on that point.

“We believe that companies recognise that. Businesses aren’t removed from wider society – they’re part of wider society.

“So the Scottish Government is now working with the business community on what we call the Scottish Business Pledge. A range of organisations – from small businesses to major companies such as Coca-Cola, Virgin Money and Microsoft – are committing themselves to innovation, internationalisation, paying the living wage, promoting gender equality and encouraging employee participation in decision making.

“Companies are making the pledge – primarily because these policies will benefit their business, but also because they are good for society as a whole. And the Scottish Government, as part of the pledge, is making it clear that we will do everything we can to support a competitive business environment.

“My objective is for Scotland not just to be a competitive place for businesses to locate and prosper but the most competitive place in the UK for businesses to locate and prosper.

“We are a government backed by our partners that wants to support you and work with you in a practical way to make Scotland that attractive place for you to do business. “

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