The Scottish Parliament Election on 6 May is fast-approaching. The election is perhaps the most important in the history of the Scottish Parliament to date, as we emerge from the health pandemic, attempt to rebuild the economy and our communities and come to terms with post-Brexit trading realities.
From my daily conversations with business leaders, we want straight answers from politicians to the big questions and challenges facing us in the months and years to come. How will they support business growth and job creation? How will crucial services and elections promises be funded? How will the next Scottish Government improve economic performance? In the next two weeks, we will host the main party leaders to ask these questions directly. In our view, it is critical for political leaders to engage with business to understand the reality on the ground, because for too long, business has felt side-lined by parliamentarians.
That’s why the Scottish Chambers of Commerce Network has united behind a plan to demonstrate what business needs to survive and grow.
The plan is set out in our paper – Rally for Growth – which provides the next cohort of Scotland’s political leaders with a comprehensive yet practical set of ideas that will be fundamental to ensuring our economy bounces back and is ready to grasp new trading opportunities here and abroad.
We are calling for Scottish Ministers to pass a Business Growth Act within the first 100 days of government that tackles the most urgent issues facing businesses right now. This Act will target core requirements of recovery, such as: reducing upfront business costs; boosting international trade; upskilling and reskilling the workforce; major digital and infrastructure investment; business mobilisation on COP26 as well as faster action and increased investment around renewable energies; and, last but not least, redesigning our towns and cities laid low by the combination of pandemic lockdowns and structural declines.
Further, we have called for a major reset of the relationship between business and government. It has become clear that the priorities of business, which are shared by anyone to whom jobs and prosperity are important, are often not aligned with the priorities of the Scottish Government. To address this, SCC has called for the establishment of a new “Joint Economic Partnership” that would oversee an ambitious program of pro-enterprise, pro-growth policies to boost economic growth and job creation, bringing together ministers, the Scottish Government’s Council of Economic Advisers and the heads of Scottish business groups such as the SCC.
One main focus of the next parliament must be infrastructure investment. Rally for Growth sets out a number of key areas that require focused investment with committed timelines.
We need to see a Scottish Aviation Strategy to kick-start growth and restore Scotland’s airports, which are critical to attracting international investors and tourists as well as facilitating trade. This should include an aviation restart fund, route development and
introduction of the long-delayed Air Departure Tax at reduced rates.
Hand in hand with this is the need to invest in low carbon technologies in order to meet our net zero ambitions. The global challenge to decarbonise is great but Scotland has unique skills and resources to help meet it. We can build on initiatives such as the current Scottish Government’s Energy Transition Fund to leverage our expertise in areas such as oil and gas into new technologies like carbon capture and hydrogen. This effort should also include a strategic plan to drive the adoption of low emission vehicles (LEVs) across the private and public sectors alongside the development of infrastructure such as charging locations and hydrogen refuelling stations.
With so many of us having adapted to working from home and children accessing remote learning, it is clear how essential digital infrastructure is to our current and future prospects. We need nothing less than a digital revolution to ensure our people remain connected while also addressing digital inequality in Scotland.
There is no one silver bullet that will stave off the risks the pandemic has imposed to our lives and livelihoods. But working together with our elected leaders is the only way we can keep pace with the realities of globalisation, enhance our ability to trade and attract talent to work and study here, as well as attract inward investment.
To join SCC’s Party Leaders event, register at: https://sccrallyforgrowth.carrd.co/