Economy pledge

Swinney demands fewer words and more action

John Swinney addressing an audience at the Barclays Campus in Glasgow (pic: Terry Murden)

First Minister John Swinney today said there would be “fewer strategy documents and more action” as he set out his plans to grow the Scottish economy.

Outlining his vision in a speech in Glasgow, Mr Swinney said he wants to adopt a “can do” attitude by removing obstacles to attract investors and speed up projects.

He gave strong hints that the divergence of income taxes between Scotland and the rest of the UK would not widen and admitted taxes could not continue to rise.

He told an audience of business and third sector leaders at the Barclays Campus that growing the economy would help him achieve his number one target of eradicating child poverty.

“Let me make it absolutely crystal clear that there is no conflict between eradicating poverty and boosting economic growth. They go hand in hand,” he said.

Promising to “take decisions after carefully listening and full engagement” with other stakeholders, he said “government must have a can-do attitude” towards removing obstacles and that planning and consultation “must be focused on making things happen.”

He added: “I will demand more actions and fewer strategy documents. It is about what we do rather than what can we write down.”

To critics of the SNP’s performance in government over 17 years, he said GDP per capita and productivity have grown faster than the UK as a whole since 2007. He said Scotland, on some measures, is still behind countries like Ireland and Finland but, referring to his 10 days in the top job, he said “we will not change things overnight”.

Asked if his government was guilty of passing the blame for failure on to Westminster while English cities like Manchester were among the fastest growing in the UK, he said he made “no excuses” for criticising Brexit and the UK government’s attitude towards migration.

He said Scotland needed population growth and that could only come from immigration, but Westminster was making it difficult for skilled workers to enter the country.

“What is holding the Scottish economy back, is the availability of people,” he said.

He mentioned the Fresh Talent initiative introduced by Labour First Minister Jack McConnell as an example of what needed to be done to get more people to come to Scotland.

On taxes, he said: “The government has taken necessary decisions on tax, but you cannot continually increase tax. We will make careful decisions on tax to make sure Scotland is an attractive place to live in and to do business in.”

Mr Swinney was accompanied by Deputy First Minister and Economy Secretary Kate Forbes who addressed the audience briefly to say she had been “inspired” by Mr Swinney to join his team.

Kate Forbes, at the gathering in Glasgow, where she spoke of Scotland’s potential (pic: Terry Murden)

She said that everything the government tries to achieve “depends on a thriving economy” and the public and private sectors working together.

“We are blessed with great natural resources and we have some of the best produce anywhere in the world,” she said.

“Our priority and opportunity is to unlock that potential.”

Speaking afterwards, Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “It was good to hear how the First Minister is going to put business at the heart of policies. The proof will be in the delivery and in particular on housing supply, planning and the cost of doing business,.”

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “I was encouraged that we have a First Minister who is explicitly talking about the need for economic growth and is working with the business community.”

He said the SRC has held four sessions with ministers already in the last week, suggesting a desire to better engage with business leaders.

However, he said the previous First Minister said a number of positive things and set up the New Deal for Business Group.

“We saw some progress at that time but then we got the Scottish Budget which went across the promises made in the New Deal.”

Catherine McWilliam, nations director at IoD Scotland, said: “IoD Scotland members have been calling for better, more collaborative communication with the Government, as seen in our recent State of the Nation Directors Survey.

“Mr. Swinney’s speech today pledged careful listening and full engagement, as well as less talk, and more action.

“This is very welcome news, however, business confidence is unlikely to be restored until leaders have tangible evidence of this commitment.”

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