The Scottish Government is committed to maintaining a supportive business environment and to ensuring that appropriate measures are in place to protect small and medium-sized enterprises during the current economic downturn.
We have introduced a range of policies that are helping to protect small and medium-sized enterprises in Scotland. Those include continuing to match the English business poundage rate; maintaining support for the small business bonus scheme, which has reduced the rates burden for 74,000 properties in Scotland; transferring the business gateway to local authorities; investing in broadband; reducing unnecessary burdens on business; and making it easier for SMEs to access public sector contracts.
Does the minister agree that our larger retailers have a moral and civic responsibility to help to bear the burden of the Westminster-imposed cuts? Does he agree that the proposed increase in business rates for large retailers would help to ease the burden that is borne by small and medium-sized businesses? Does he agree that Labour and the Conservatives would perhaps find it easier to support those proposals had they not received more than £14 million in political donations from the Sainsbury family over the past few years?
I agree that in a time when our budgets are being slashed, we need all hands to the pump. We are trying to optimise jobs, quality of life and economic growth in all parts of Scotland. The customers of the supermarkets are feeling the pinch as their incomes and pensions are frozen or declining and the cost of VAT and fuel is going through the roof.
I was criticised yesterday for suggesting that supermarkets and the people should come together. Those companies that do that will receive a big dividend in the future. That is the thought that we are hearing from the major business thinkers with whom we are meeting in the business schools.
As far as the donations are concerned, it is always best for donors and recipients to be seen to be even-handed. The current approach will not have escaped the attention of many people in Scotland and will make them think.
The member confuses the situation. We are a devolved Government and we aspire to have a competitive independent country with full responsibility for all our taxes and the same growth that other countries have. The people who advocate that we stay where we are and stay in our box are advocating that Scotland should continue with our trend rate of growth at 1.8 per cent per annum, when the United Kingdom achieved a growth rate of 2.3 per cent, Norway achieved 3.1 per cent and Ireland achieved 5.2 per cent. We can catch up and match them if we get economic powers. Those who deny that will be condemned by history, Mr Purvis.
Small businesses in my constituency of Cumbernauld and Kilsyth are finding it difficult to provide the service that they want to provide because of the slow broadband links in the area. The minister will know that I have written to him on the matter. As I am sure he is aware, my Cumbernauld and Kilsyth constituency is right in the centre of Scotland, with great access to road and rail but, unfortunately, we are not connected up to 21st century broadband. Will the Scottish Government and the minister commit to investigating the issue further and bringing Cumbernauld and Kilsyth up to the speeds that people who move there expect?
We indeed commit to investigating that further. We are very much linked to that. We want the “Digital Britain” vision to come to the fore and we have done everything that we can, incrementally, to make up for the shortcomings in broadband—as a UK universal service—that we were delivered under the previous UK Administration and the early days of the current one.