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Scottish government election

Holyrood must appoint a Business Secretary, says FSB

Andy WilloxSmall firms are calling for the next government at Holyrood to appoint a Cabinet Secretary for Business.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has also called for the new administration to force the public sector to spend more with the smallest businesses, transform the digital infrastructure; tackle skills shortages; reform business rates and introduce new legislation to make Scotland a world leader in e-government.

In its 2016 election manifesto, the 19,000 strong membership body has stressed the interdependence between small firms and the communities in which they’re based.

Andy Willox, FSB Scottish policy convenor, said: “Headline economic statistics suggest that Scotland has made up some ground since the downturn. But these figures tell us nothing about the reality of doing business in Portree, the job prospects in Perth or the high street in Paisley.

“If the next administration is committed to a fairer and more prosperous Scotland, they must get under the bonnet of individual communities. They must develop new ways to turn around failing places around and ensure that local economies aren’t perilously dependent on a small number of mobile large employers or industries.

“We need to build communities that are more resilient to global economic shocks – and that means spreading our risk by broadening and strengthening our small business base.”

The publication – Resilient Economies, Resilient Communities – argues for a new economic approach which recognises what small businesses bring to an area in addition to jobs and growth.

Recognising the soon-to-be expanded portfolio Cabinet Secretary for Finance, the lobby group makes the case for a new Cabinet Secretary for Business – reflecting the long-standing separation between Chancellor and Secretary for State for Business at UK-level.

Mr Willox said: “Scottish small businesses need an advocate at the top table, distinct from the person who holds the country’s purse strings.”

The FSB says the Scottish public sector should aim, by 2021, to spend 10% of its procurement budget with businesses who have fewer than 10 employees – a move they say would bring an additional £250million into the country’s smallest firms every year.

It calls for new legislation to make it easier for firms to interact with the government online and for serious action to improve Scottish broadband and mobile coverage.  The manifesto condemns public bodies that consolidate their estate and close local buildings – calling for them to face financial penalties.

Mr Willox said: “Evidence shows that procurement spending with smaller firms delivers more for local economies. We believe that asking Scottish public bodies to spend 1 in 10 procurement pounds with micro businesses over the course of next parliament is a realistic and achievable target.”

On digital services and infrastructure he said: “The Scottish public sector’s digital footprint is a mess and we’re falling behind our counterparts elsewhere in the UK. While it is critical that we deliver universal superfast broadband and dramatically improved mobile coverage, we need to make it much easier for firms to pay their taxes, comply with regulation and access public support.”

On supporting communities he added: “Too many Scottish public bodies have closed offices and buildings on high streets and in towns, while others plough on with edge of town developments. We need to see financial penalties for agencies and departments who choose to make short-term savings at the expense of the long-term viability of a local area.”

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