Minister's pledge

Mairi McAllan: ‘My bottom line is your bottom line’

Mairi McAllan set out her ambitions for growth (pic: Terry Murden / DB Media Services)

Scottish government Economy Secretary Mairi McAllan told a gathering of business leaders that she wanted to encourage investment and remove obstacles to growth.

In her first address since being promoted in the Cabinet reshuffle, she said her net zero and energy responsibilities would combine with the broader economic objectives to boost productivity and help entrepreneurs.

She made a pledge to tackle regulatory ‘burdens’, such as delays in the planning system, and to address skills shortages by reducing the 240,000 economically inactive people due to ill health.

“I will bring the commerciality that is innate in the corporate world to this portfolio, to my work with you and the enormous opportunities ahead of us,” said the minister.

“My bottom line is your bottom line. The P&L account of Scotland plc. I want the economy to grow, I want individual businesses to invest, I want productivity to increase.”

Ms McAllan told those attending the event organised by Prosper at the offices of law firm Brodies in Edinburgh, that parts of her portfolio are “sometimes framed as contradictory, in conflict. Irreconcilable in that regard.

“But this is wrongheaded and turns its face against the prevailng direction of the global economy. I am clear – tackling climate change is an environmental and moral imperative and done right it also presents the single greatest socioeconomic opportunity of our time.”

Mairi McAllan with Prosper CEO Sara Thiam (pic: Terry Murden DB Media Services)

She said creating the right condtions for private investment requires a collaborative approach, a stable regime, speeding up planning and consenting decisions and faster progress on grid connections.

“I am determined to pursue this. And progress is being made. Our onshore wind sector deal will halve the consenting time for projects.”

She said the government will “shortly set out steps to improve resources for the planning system.”

She added: “I know that regulation is often seen as a bad thing, but I want us to get it right quickly, so it can be, not a barrier but a key enabler of a growing economy.” She stressed a desire to tackle “unnecessary obstacles to growth”.

The Green Industrial Strategy will be a “clear and unambiguous statement of intent directed to companies and investors here and around the world, providing them with the certainty they require.”

On skills shortages, she said: “Our shared conundrum is that whilst you are struggling to find people to do the work, too many people in Scotland, around 240,000, are currently economically inactive due to ill health.”

She said she would be working across government and with organisations like Public Health Scotland on long term solutions which tackle physical and mental health barriers to work. The government has committed £200m to the issue.

Mairi McAllan: keen to tackle skills and planning issues (pic: Terry Murden / DB Media Services)

A Talent Attraction and Migration Service will be launched this year to encourage workers to work and live in Scotland. Ms McAllan will be taking action on the recommendations of James Withers’ skills review.

On emerging businesses, she announced that she will build on chief entrepreneur Mark Logan’s Techscaler initiative by launching a pilot Techscaler hub in Silicon Valley “to help promising startups from Scotland in areas from health technology to space, build contacts with international investors and customers.”

The minister confirmed that the government is providing £24m to help underpin a £350m investment by Sumitomo Electric Industries in a cable manufacturing plant in the Highlands that was announced in April last year and confirmed in May.

She said she will use al the levers at her disposal to enable the economy to prosper.

“I will also strive to create a positive relationship between government and business,” she said. “Our interests will not align all of the time. But it is important that our decisions in every part of government are well informed to ensure better and balanced policy.”

She singled out space, photonics, fintech and AI as clusters she wanted to support, while ensuring those sectors “on which Scotland’s economy is built” – financial services, health and life sciences, advanced manufacturing, tourism and hospitality, food and drink, and energy – continue to grow and thrive.

She made no mention of oil & gas, retail or income taxes, though during the Q&A she said she was committed to a progressive tax system in which higher earners pay more to support public services.

Speaking afterwards to the media, she responded to questions about oil & gas and business rates.

“We recognise oil and gas is hugely important to the economy”, she said. Asked if she supported the First Minister’s view that the UK government’s decision to approve the Rosebank field was “wrong”, she added: “I don’t think the Rosebank decision was correct. I think licences should only be granted if they pass climate compatibility tests.”

Responding to a question about business rates, she said: “I am conscious of the calls for reform and disgruntlement about the outcome of the budget.

“Ultimately, I am open-minded about calls for reform, but the system we have already excludes a lot of non-domestic rates properties from paying rates.”

See also:

McAllan must be a Secretary for Growth

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