The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption for businesses across Scotland, and as parties’ campaign on their plans for the future of Scotland, economic recovery is front-and-centre.
Last week, Dr Liz Cameron OBE, Chief Executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, wrote for Portland on what business expects the next Scottish Government to deliver and called upon political leaders to engage with business to understand the reality on the ground and rally for growth.
This week, the main political parties outline their vision and policies for business as they seek to rebuild Scotland’s economy.
- Scottish National Party
- Scottish Conservatives
- Scottish Labour
- Scottish Liberal Democrats
- Scottish Green Party
Scottish National Party
As we start to emerge from the Covid crisis, we will harness Scotland’s innovation and ingenuity to create jobs and drive a strong and green economic recovery.
In Government, we provided over £3 billion of support to businesses to help them through the pandemic and now, as restrictions ease, many businesses will receive restart grants between £7,000 and £19,500, on top of a year of 100% Business rates relief.
If re-elected, we will continue to invest in small and medium sized businesses. The Small Business Bonus scheme, which benefits more than 100,000 businesses, will continue and we will invest £100 million to help SMEs get access to the right digital skills and equipment. We will also support a 500% increase in the number of employee owned businesses by 2030 and create a mechanism to support more employee buyouts.
Under the SNP, Scotland has both the lowest business rates poundage in the UK and the most generous relief schemes. If re-elected, we will gradually reduce the Large Business Supplement to ensure the largest businesses pay the same combined poundage in Scotland as in England, and look at levying a higher poundage on properties where the owner is registered in a tax haven.
As we recover from the pandemic, we want to do more to support a healthy work-life balance, so we will establish a £10 million fund to allow companies to pilot and explore the benefits of a four day working week.
We will create a dedicated Women’s Business Centre, backed by £50 million, a £20 million Rural Entrepreneur Fund, and deliver a National Challenge competition, providing a £50 million fund to the project or projects with the greatest potential to transform Scotland’s economy.
We will create a national network of world class facilities – backed by £30 million – to develop new tech start-ups that can grow to offer quality, well paid jobs, and ensure they are accessible virtually for businesses in rural areas. We will also implement net zero data centres and support the creation of 5G Innovation hubs and districts.
Our National Infrastructure Mission will increase investment to £7 billion by 2025-26 supporting 45,000 jobs, and we will deliver 100,000 new homes over the next ten years as part of a £16 billion investment.
Brexit and removal from the EU single market – seven times bigger than the UK – has devastated Scottish business and jobs, especially in our exporting sector. While independence offers us a route back to the European single market, we will continue to do everything possible in the immediate term to mitigate that damage, including increasing the number of trade and investment hubs to promote Scottish products and innovation.
The firm determination of the Scottish Conservatives to oppose another independence referendum will come as no surprise to anyone. We, as a party, are in no doubt that such a divisive and disruptive vote at a time when Scotland and indeed the rest of the UK is only just beginning to emerge from the current crisis, has the potential to cause lasting damage to our already weakened economy.
In the minds of Scottish Conservatives, the primary focus going forward must be on rebuilding the Scottish economy and helping to get businesses back on their feet after a year’s worth of restrictions. One key step in achieving this would be to establish a standing Business Recovery Council, giving business owners an opportunity to have a say in decisions concerning economic recovery. We would seek to simplify the processes through which businesses currently access government support, both for COVID and non-COVID funding, by introducing a ten-working day national standard for all grant applications. This would help to avoid the confusion which has accompanied the introduction of many Scottish Government grants which have either been slow to pay out or have left many businesses in Scotland ineligible for support.
One area in particular for which the pandemic has served to highlight significant structural issues is the current system in place for taxing non-domestic properties. Businesses in my own constituency are among many in Scotland who have been adversely affected by this outdated system, and a considerable number were penalised in the 2017 business rates revaluation which failed to take into account the fall in oil prices. We would aim to replace the existing sharp increases which are incurred by companies with properties of rateable values between £15,000 and £20,000 with a more gradual phase-in method, and in the long term, look to undertake a wholescale review of the entire business rates system. For the time being, we would also maintain the poundage rate freeze at 49p until 2023 in order to provide greater stability for every business that pays rates.
Although it has been said time and again over this last year, the fact still remains that the level of support given to Scottish businesses throughout the COVID-19 pandemic would not have been possible without the UK’s HM Treasury. Not only this, but going forward, we strongly believe that it is only as part of the United Kingdom that Scottish businesses can truly benefit from the export opportunities that will be vital in creating the jobs and encouraging the growth of the future, both in established and emerging industries. And so in campaigning to remain as one United Kingdom, we, the Scottish Conservatives, firmly believe that we are standing up for the best interests of Scotland, and the many businesses and people who inhabit her.
We are going into this election in circumstances that no-one could have predicted 5 years ago, and the scale of the challenges facing many businesses in Scotland cannot be overstated. Dealing with this must be at the heart of all parties’ plans. Scottish Labour are clear that the next Parliament must be focused on delivering a national recovery plan to support businesses, protect jobs, and rebuild our economy.
The re-opening of our economy over the coming months will no doubt come as a huge relief to businesses, but it would be naive to think the problems facing businesses will end when restrictions do. Scottish Labour’s manifesto sets out the most ambitious fiscal stimulus package and job creation scheme in the history of devolution, and we are committed to working with businesses to ensure these schemes meet their needs.
One of the key challenges is recognising that while many businesses have survived, the wider economy will be depressed for some time. That’s why we need a plan for a full reopening of businesses along with the plan for recovery in order to save jobs.
We have a clear plan. First of all, we need to repurpose and refocus our agencies on recovery. This means redirecting Scottish Enterprise to focus on business recovery. We need to direct stimulus for the high street, which is why we are proposing a £75 prepaid card to put money in the hands of consumers to spend directly on the high street and we need to tackle the break that business rates puts on so many business. In short, we need to commit to a full review of how things are done that reflects the 21st century economy not the 20th.
Scottish Liberal Democrats
After years of division over independence and Brexit, and the shock of the pandemic, business needs greater certainty to face the future. Productivity is the driver for our prosperity. Our plans on education and mental health will help make sure we have a workforce equipped for the challenge.
Scotland’s economic potential is built upon its people and networks, its knowledge base and its natural assets. Our ambition is to build a robust and diverse economy where businesses can thrive, and everyone can have access to work that has a purpose.
As we look to the future, we acknowledge that the challenges of the last twelve months have fallen heavily on the shoulders of the young. So we will give young people stronger opportunities to start their careers with a young person’s job guarantee that will ensure that every 16-24 year old will have access to a job, training or volunteering opportunity. We will also deliver a £40m fund to deliver 2,000 graduate internships in SMEs to stimulate business development and give graduates job-ready skills.
We will give workers of all ages the opportunity to retrain to acquire skills for the future, with new £5,000 Scottish Training Bonds to help people change careers and career advice to help people future-proof their new skills.
We have the opportunity to rebuild and repurpose economic activity towards climate friendly industry, pursuing and encouraging new green investments and recognising that small and local businesses can often, by their nature, be quicker to adapt. We will take special care to give the regions of Scotland heavily invested in fossil fuels a fair transition to new industries which use their immense technical, scientific and engineering skills.
Making sure that the recovery from the pandemic is a green one is at the heart of our economic strategy. We want to give Scottish workers the best chance to manufacture offshore wind turbines. The fiasco of BiFab where government promises failed to deliver sustained employment showed we need a Scotland-wide effort to scale-up capacity and compete with the world.
Support for business growth and resilience will be as important as entrepreneurship and company creation. To achieve this, we must make sure that Scottish firms have efficient access to international markets. Scottish Liberal Democrats are committed to keeping Scotland aligned as closely to the EU as possible and, by opposing another independence referendum, ending uncertainty over our relationship with our largest trading partner – the rest of the UK.
In fewer words: we will put the economic recovery first, not another referendum. That’s how we help Scotland bounce back from the disruption created by the pandemic.
Scottish Green Party
Over a million Scots work for small and medium-sized businesses, and we all rely on business for vital goods and services. Rebuilding our economy after the pandemic, tackling the climate emergency, and building a fairer Scotland all depend on businesses getting the support they need to recover and exploit the opportunities presented by the global transition to a zero-carbon economy.
Throughout the pandemic, Scottish Green MSPs worked hard to support local businesses and workers affected by the pandemic. Nationally, we campaigned for better and more consistent business support including a long-term commitment to furlough and enhanced support for the hospitality industry. We will continue to work hard to support a green recovery from the pandemic that supports the growth of responsible and green businesses.
Our manifesto puts forward a suite of policies that will support small businesses across Scotland, including a massive increase in investment in energy efficiency – a sector dominated by small, local businesses – and new requirements on public procurement to support local and sustainable businesses. Together, these will act as a major stimulus for small businesses across Scotland, and will create tens of thousands of jobs, particularly in areas that are dominated by local small and medium businesses like energy efficiency.
We also recognise that public support for businesses and procurement needs to do more, both for businesses themselves and to build a fairer and greener economy. We will therefore align public procurement, enterprise agencies and other business support and grant schemes, including Business Gateway services, behind supporting good business; this means conditionality on meeting fair work standards and supporting high environmental standards.
To ensure a green economic recovery delivers for Scotland’s diverse business sector, and to support the transition to fairer and greener business, we will establish a Good Business Council to act as an advisory board for the Scottish Government, focused on the delivery of a green economic recovery.
The Scottish Greens recognise the vital role small businesses play in our economy, and we are committed to supporting them as we secure a green economic recovery from the pandemic. Green MSPs will work hard to support sustainable local businesses, and we will deliver a green recovery that creates economic opportunity and revitalises local economies.