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Jobs and tech pledge overshadowed by indy call

Nicola Sturgeon: ‘we will seek to choose our own future

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon put technology, a green deal and the promise of jobs for the young at the heart of a plan to rebuild the Covid-battered economy.

Business groups were encouraged by the government’s determination to get the nation back on a growth path as she set out her programme of legislation over the remainder of the parliament.

But there was a mixed response to her commitment to a referendum bill on independence. The announcement was regarded as firing the starting gun on the election campaign.

“At next year’s election, we will make the case for Scotland to become an independent country, and seek a clear endorsement of Scotland’s right to choose our own future,” she declared as she expressed frustration at the government’s limited ability to borrow money and intervene more directly to support businesses.

While her backbenchers cheered the announcement, critics expressed concern at the time and resources that it will absorb when the legislative timetable has already slipped because of the pandemic.

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Struan Stevenson, CEO of the pro-union campaign group Scottish Business UK, said: “By setting aside the valuable time of civil servants to draft and publish yet another referendum bill before the end of the parliament, ministers are setting a timeline of risk and uncertainty which will needlessly undermine business confidence and recovery.”

Tracy Black, director of CBI Scotland, said: “Ultimately, Scotland’s economic recovery depends on the Scottish and UK governments pulling in the same direction and working with business to focus on jobs, skills and opportunities for young people.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “This was the moment where the First Minister could have put selfish, narrow interests to one side and united the country.

“Instead, we’re told the solution is another Referendum Bill, only this time in the middle of a pandemic.

“The First Minister just doesn’t get it. She needs to leave the Holyrood bubble and get back into the real world, where people are fearful of losing their jobs.”

Tech commitment

Businesses gave a more favourable response to Ms Sturgeon’s commitment to implement in full Mark Logan’s recently-delivered report on the tech eco-system, including a nationwide network of incubators and a new fund.

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes later said there would be five scalers in place by 2022, with the aim of creating at least 300 high-quality start-ups over the next five years.

Ms Forbes also announced an Ecosystem Fund to make strategic investments in the Scottish tech sector and plans to establish a formal partnership with the technology industry to drive forward Mr Logan’s longer-term recommendations.

Kate Forbes

Kate Forbes: ‘just the start’ (pic: Terry Murden)

The Finance Secretary said: “Mark Logan’s review of our tech sector has attracted universal acclaim, having been described as potentially transformational by key figures across business, technology and academia.  

“The tech scaler network is the report’s centrepiece and I am pleased to be putting this recommendation into action to dramatically increase the quality and intensity of support available to Scottish start-ups. 

“Today’s announcement is just the start of our response to Mr Logan’s report and I look forward to working closely with technology companies to create a Scotland where start-ups can thrive.”

Ms Sturgeon said the new Scottish National Investment Bank, which will begin work this year, has been in discussions about a number of projects regarding funding support, including supporting supply chains for zero-emission public transport.

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She referred to the UK government’s refusal to seek an extension to the Brexit transition period as “an act of sabotage” and announced in response that there would be an inward investment plan with the aim of creating 100,000 jobs.

Youth pledge

Young people between the age of 16 and 24 will be guaranteed a job, education or formal training under a new £60m “youth guarantee”.

It was announced as the UK Government’s £2bn Kickstart scheme comes into effect, giving unemployed 16-24 year olds a promise of subsidised jobs. 

Under the scheme, announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak as part of his Plan for Jobs, employers can offer youngsters who are claiming Universal Credit a six-month work placement. 

The Government will fully fund each “Kickstart” job – paying 100% of the age-relevant National Minimum Wage, National Insurance and pension contributions for 25 hours a week.

Employers will be able to top up this wage, while the Government will also pay employers £1500 to set up support and training for people on a Kickstart placement, as well as helping pay for uniforms and other set up costs. 

Ms Sturgeon announced further proposals to support jobs including a £25m Training Transition Fund for those who have been laid off, and £10m to help employers recruit and retain apprentices.

There will also be a £100m Green Jobs Fund. Half will be dedicated to helping businesses and organisations grow to significantly increase employment in low carbon sectors. The other half will help businesses take advantage of public and private investment in the low carbon economy.

Andrew McRae

Andrew McRae: ‘some businesses are reaching the end of the road’

There was a commitment to work with the retail sector on a new strategy.

Andrew McRae, FSB’s Scotland policy chairman, said: “Our big concern is that few of these initiatives will kick-in overnight and at least some businesses are reaching the end of the road.

“We may still need new short and medium term measures to help important local firms through this period of crisis.”

On the FM’s call for ’20-minute towns’ where services are easily accessible, he said: “It makes sense to increase the amount of economic activity in our towns and cities during the day, so the development of local work hubs, or more co-working spaces, in local communities could pay dividends.”

Malcolm Cannon, national director of IoD Scotland, said: “The upskilling initiatives, such as the Youth Guarantee, will provide reassurance that their future plans won’t be hampered by a skills gap.  The establishment of a Centre for Work Transformation is an inspired move, indicating there is recognition at Government level that it is not business as usual.”

Care Homes

The government will examine and set out options for the creation of a National Care Service.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has welcomed the First Minister’s commitment to a service his party has been demanding for ten years.

“Today’s announcement of a review is a welcome signal of intent. But time is running out,” he said.

Robert Kilgour, executive chairman of Renaissance Care, said repeated calls for an urgent, truly independent inquiry into over 2,000 Covid-related deaths in Scottish care homes have been consistently rejected by the Scottish Government, saying that civil servants were too busy dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Robert Kilgour

Robert Kilgour: ‘we need an inquiry now’ (pic: Terry Murden)

“So, how can the Scottish Government possibly justify prioritising this new review into a National Care Service while thousands of bereaved families are still desperately waiting for answers months after their loved ones have died?

“Everyone agrees there is a need for a wide-ranging debate on how we provide social care in Scotland, but we urgently need an inquiry into these Covid-related deaths so we can learn lessons and protect vulnerable residents, staff and families from a second spike this winter.

“We need this nationwide, independent inquiry now, not in a year’s time and I call on the Scottish Government to do the right thing.”

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