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As I See It

New Economy Secretary needs to rethink policy

Terry portrait with tieAs an opening move, the First Minister’s decision to split John Swinney’s portfolio and create dedicated Finance and Economy secretaries in Cabinet is a positive move.

Mr Swinney’s brief was, in any case, far too expansive, with responsibilities across the constitution, the budget and economic development.

However, it must be hoped that Ms Sturgeon is not simply easing Mr Swinney’s workload and has recognised that all other portfolios depend on a well-oiled economy to make good intentions in social policy achievable.

There has already been an admission that the newly-divided responsibilities are a response to those who have long campaigned for a clearer focus in government on key economic issues.

A call at the weekend for a dedicated SME minister was probably too much to expect, but Ms Sturgeon could have gone further – and may yet do so – by creating a Cabinet post for business in general. If the new Economy Secretary embraces the business portfolio then this will not be of such importance.

Mr Swinney is certain to retain the Finance brief, but who will get the Economy?  Humza Yousaf, Derek Mackay or Keith Brown must be in the frame, but whoever it is will need to make an early judgement on those proposals which have brought most criticism.

In the last parliament Ms Sturgeon introduced the Business Pledge, a promise to help business if business complied with a list of requirements such as fair pay and equal opportunities.

There have some highly-publicised commitments by businesses, but many of them feel the government has failed to keep its side of the bargain.

Business rates top the target list, including a root and branch review of how the system operates. There is a more immediate concern over the large premises supplement. Added to that is the empty premises levy. These add to the cost of doing business and erode Scotland’s competitiveness.

There must be a new focus on raising productivity which lags even the weak level of the UK generally.

As for Finance, the new minister will be pressed by the resurgent Tories to rein back on plans to deny higher earners the lift in the top rate income tax threshold. A more benign approach towards those who create wealth would be no bad thing.

Fundamentally, the recognition of a need for this change in Cabinet membership is another sign of the Scottish parliament maturing.

Ms Sturgeon has rightly recognised that with new powers comes a requirement to ensure they are managed appropriately.


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