Taking Scotland Forward: Economy

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 31st May 2016.

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Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

I have no understanding that it was about trying to attract PPP projects. That was also mentioned during the earlier discussion on China and, again, it formed no part of those discussions. I was not involved in the discussion in relation to Qatar that the member refers to.

Our enterprise agencies work with companies to grasp such opportunities. Four years ago, Scottish Development International helped 1,400 companies to internationalise; last year, the figure was more than 2,500. As the First Minister announced last week, we want to build on such successes.

One way of doing that is to carry out an end-to-end review of the roles, responsibilities and relationships of our enterprise, development and skills agencies. The review will consider how best to deliver and enhance the agencies’ services and functions to meet new client expectations and deliver on Government ambitions for productivity. I will lead that review and set out more detail to Parliament in due course.

Scotland’s economic strategy sets out the importance of manufacturing to our ambitions for the economy. In February, in conjunction with our enterprise agencies, we published a new manufacturing action plan to further develop a joint focus that will help to boost a sector that is responsible for half of Scotland’s international exports and more than half of our research and development investment.

Of course, we will continue to invest in our physical and digital infrastructure; Fergus Ewing will say more on that when he sums up at the end of the debate. Such investments provide an immediate boost to the economy during construction and provide tangible assets that underpin future productivity growth.

Our digital superfast broadband programme is on track to deliver 95 per cent coverage by the end of 2017, and additional public investment will help to achieve our ambition of 100 per cent superfast broadband coverage by 2021.

Our strategy also makes it clear that improving Scotland’s economic performance requires action to tackle inequalities. High levels of inequality can undermine our economic performance, whereas action to improve our economic performance and reduce inequalities can and should be mutually supportive. Our approach to business includes a greater focus on inclusive growth and fair work and is characterised by a spirit of collaboration.

We have brought government, trade unions and businesses together to encourage progressive workplace practices and to improve productivity. Some notable successes include the work done by Fergus Ewing on steel and shipbuilding at Ferguson. Evidence shows that firms that pay the living wage and provide job security and career progression, as well as investment in skills and training, tend to outperform their peers. That is why we should encourage that and why we will continue to promote fair work and progressive workplace practices through the business pledge, the promotion of the living wage and the fair work convention.

We can see progress. We have more than 500 living wage accredited companies and the second highest proportion in the UK—80.5 per cent—of our employees are paid the living wage or more.

Given the importance of the labour market to our ambitions, one of our first actions in the current parliamentary session will be the publication of a new labour market strategy to ensure that our support is tailored to meet economic conditions.

As well as responsible business, a focus on education and skills is fundamental to securing inclusive growth. We will maintain the number of full-time college places and continue to focus on the skills and training that help young people into work. We will also provide 30,000 new apprenticeships a year by 2020 and we will work with schools to inspire more young people into science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects. Once we have the powers, we will introduce a jobs grant to help young people aged 16 to 24 who have been unemployed for six months or more back into work.

I have talked about infrastructure and investment, which was perhaps to be expected, given my previous portfolio as Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities. The Queensferry crossing is the most visible investment of the last session of Parliament; although not as visible, the most important investment that we will make during this session of Parliament will be in a transformational increase in childcare provision. By the end of this session, we will have almost doubled available free early learning and childcare to 1,140 hours a year. That will ensure that young children in Scotland get a high-quality start to their education. It will also ensure that families with young children can continue to participate in the labour market and, in turn, it will underpin future economic growth.

Our plans for childcare also directly support our ambitions for raising educational achievement and closing gaps in attainment. The attainment Scotland fund was established to address that challenge, and the ambition that we are showing in education and early years lays the foundations for our economy, driving long-term improvements in productivity and opportunity.

Our economy has shown resilience against recent prevailing economic conditions. We continue to face global headwinds—I am not denying that, and I recognise the challenges that we face. However, we will maintain a clear and unrelenting focus on creating a competitive and supportive business environment in order to achieve our ambitions.

My appointment as a dedicated cabinet secretary for the economy should send a clear signal about this Government’s focus on stimulating growth, protecting and creating jobs and promoting Scotland as a great place to do business.

We will continue to focus on improving productivity and prosperity through innovation, investment, internationalisation and tackling inequality.

I move,

That the Parliament recognises the importance of a strong economy to underpin strong public services; recognises recent successes, such as Scotland securing more foreign development investment projects in 2015 than any other part of the UK outside London, but also acknowledges key challenges, including those facing the oil and gas industry and the renewables sector; supports a focus on improving productivity through innovation, investment, internationalisation and tackling inequality, and commits to take action in support of Scotland’s economy, including extending broadband, investing in infrastructure and building the skills and talents of Scotland’s people.