Forum meets to reset ministers’ links with business
Neil Gray: co-chairs meeting (pic: Terry Murden)
An attempt to “reset” relations between the Scottish Government and business will kick off this week at the first meeting of a new forum.
Co-chaired by Wellbeing Economy Secretary Neil Gray and Dr Poonam Malik, head of investments at Strathclyde university, the forum is the outcome of a promise by First Minister Humza Yousaf in his “Fresh Start for Scotland”.
His decision to set up the “New Deal” group, which meets in Edinburgh on Wednesday, is seen as an admission that the government and business failed to work successfully together under Nicola Sturgeon.
Mr Yousaf made a first move to placate frustration and discontent by delaying the controversial deposit return scheme and announcing that the proposal to ban the promotion of alcohol would be reviewed. In recent months the government has also been in conflict with the oil & gas industry over its green transition plans.
The Scottish Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Scottish Retail Consortium and other lobby groups will be represented on the new forum which seeks earlier involvement in policy development.
Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce recently re-stated the need for ministers to consult with business from the outset so that legislation had a better chance of gaining a consensus of opinion, rather than business being forced to amend proposed legislation.
Failure to build agreement from the outset has led to public rows over the DRS and alcohol promotion ban but also on business rates, the workplace levy, lettings licensing and the tourist tax.
Dr Malik said: “The establishment of this group is timely, given external turbulence and big economic challenges, but I believe we can work through these together to make the most of the opportunities of a just rransition.
“My experience has shown me that improved collaboration and meaningful engagement can bring about positive change in growing economies and support businesses with purpose to have a positive impact on communities.
“We will take a refreshed approach to our common vision and shared economic goals to deliver a healthy and happy future with the equitable and fair society that we all aspire to.”
The Scottish Tories called on the SNP to reduce the tax burden facing Scottish businesses, to show that they are committed to a genuine “reset”.
Finance spokeswoman Liz Smith said the starting point must be to address the “huge disadvantage” facing Scottish firms in relation to business rates compared to the rest of the United Kingdom.
Previous analysis by the Scottish Conservatives revealed that no Scottish business pays less in business rates than their counterparts in the rest of the UK and most would be worse off.
The Tories say the SNP has failed to pass on 75% rates relief to firms in Scotland for 2023-24, which has been delivered for retail, leisure and hospitality businesses in England and Wales. The SNP disputes this.
Ms Smith said: “The SNP’s relationship with business during their 16 years in office has frankly never been good enough. Yet ever since they brought the extremist Greens into government that relationship has deteriorated rapidly and that has been fully exposed in recent months.
“Rather than listen to businesses from the outset, SNP-Green ministers have ploughed ahead with unworkable and burdensome policies like the deposit return scheme and banning alcohol advertising before finally relenting at the last minute.
“That is no way to run the economy. This new group is a step in the right direction but it must be more than another talking shop. We’ve seen countless economic groups set up by the SNP but with little to show for them.”