FM's anniversary

Yousaf under fire after claiming support for business

Humza Yousaf at his election as party leader last year (pic: Terry Murden / DB Media Services)

First Minister Humza Yousaf will today claim his first year in government has created a “supportive business environment” as critics point to soaring rates and taxes, bungled initiatives, and cuts to funding the green economy.

As he marks his election to the SNP leadership a year ago this week, Mr Yousaf says he has focused on tackling poverty through investment in public services, building a new relationship with business, and helping people with the cost-of-living crisis.

“Over the last year, my team in government has worked with the clear aims of delivering a just society and supportive business environment,” he says.

“We have invested in and driven progress on Scotland’s huge renewables potential, which will support economic growth, with a pledge of up to £500 million to support the offshore wind industry.

“Unlike the UK as whole, Scotland has avoided entering a recession while recent business survey data shows stronger employment growth than anywhere else in the UK on top of long term growth in GDP per person almost double the UK average since 2007.

“And through our Techscaler network of start-up incubators, we are well on our way to delivering one of the finest state-funded entrepreneurial systems in the world, dedicated to the creation of high-growth businesses.”

However, Scotland’s retail representatives said that from next week the country’s shops will see their annual business rates bills rocket by £31 million.

Rates for 22,120 medium-sized and larger commercial premises will soar by 6.7% – the biggest yearly increase in the business rate since 1999 and almost double the current rate of inflation.

Pubs and restaurants will see their annual rates bills rise by £2m, while, hotels, offices, and industrial properties will have to pay an additional £7.8m, £23.5m, and £32.4m respectively.

The Scottish Budget revealed that ministers are considering levying a business rate public health surtax on larger grocery stores. If implemented this would likely come on top of the hike in the business rate.

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said that despite Scottish retail sales flatlining, shopper footfall remaining below pre-pandemic levels, and the economic outlook being uncertain, business rates were spiralling to a 25-year high.

“The sheer magnitude of this tax hike is starkly at odds with Scottish Government promises to ‘use business rates to boost business’,” said Mr Lonsdale.

East Kilbride Shopping Centre
Shops are facing a £31m rates hike

The SNP-Green government has also been accused of “economic and environmental vandalism” for cutting the budget for the transition to clean energy.

Scottish Labour today said the Green Jobs Fund has been cut entirely, due to a “reprioritisation of spending plans”.

The Green Growth Accelerator – which the SNP previously claimed would “unlock £200m of public sector investment to drive our transition to net zero” – also received no funding in the budget, with ministers later admitting the scheme has been “paused”.

Funding for the SNP-Green government’s flagship Just Transition Fund – announced to much fanfare as part of the Bute House Agreement – was also slashed by more than 75% between 2023-24 and 2024-25.

Labour’s criticism follows stark warnings last week from the Climate Change Committee that the SNP-Green government’s emissions targets are “no longer credible” and that delays to its Climate Change Plan are preventing progress delivering a just transition.

Scottish Labour Net Zero spokesperson Sarah Boyack said “It is astounding that the SNP-Green government is axing funding for green jobs in the midst of a climate emergency, as workers, industries and communities worry about their future.

“The SNP and the Greens are abandoning workers and driving a bulldozer through our climate obligations with this act of economic and environmental vandalism.”

Business leaders have poured scorn on the SNP-Green government for raising income taxes on higher earners which they say will deter talent, and for imposing a series of costly and botched programmes on business such as the deposit return scheme and the marine protection plan.

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