Taking Scotland Forward: Economy

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

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Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

I am not blind to those things, but in the space of my seven minutes I want to highlight the challenges ahead, because by being blind to those challenges, the Scottish Government does a disservice to Parliament and the Scottish economy.

I posed to the cabinet secretary the question what the Government has been doing. He can give a litany of excuses and explanations, but we were in 16th place in 2006 and we are now in 19th place. The Government’s target is to be in the top quartile by the end of 2017. Is the cabinet secretary sticking to that target? Perhaps he will deal with that in his summing-up speech.

Improving productivity is fundamental to improving growth. In reviewing Scottish Enterprise, the cabinet secretary would do well to give it targets for building national productivity.

Support for innovation, support for superfast broadband as a national infrastructure priority and access to venture capital are also essential if we are to improve productivity. On that note, what on earth has happened to the Scottish Investment Bank? I believe that it has been announced about seven times now. Will it ever see the light of day?

Employment levels have fallen—we now have 21,000 fewer jobs and we are lagging behind the rest of the UK. Of the jobs that were created in the previous session of Parliament, six out of 10 were in low-paid and insecure work, with women being employed in the majority of those posts. We can surely do better than that.

Unemployment is increasing: it has gone up by 20,000, which means that there are now 171,000 unemployed people, but there are even more who are economically inactive. While our unemployment has been increasing, the UK figure has decreased by 28,000.

Across a range of measures, we are not doing well. We can and must do better. I can offer some suggestions. We should get on with the review of business rates to recognise the important role of small and medium-sized enterprises. We should put in place a comprehensive industrial strategy, with a specific focus on our science, technology and engineering sectors, and we should renew our focus on cities as the engine rooms of the Scottish economy, and invest in infrastructure so that we improve connectivity, which is particularly important to our rural economy.

Further, the SNP needs to reverse the cuts to education. We cannot cut hundreds of millions of pounds from our schools and expect to have a highly skilled workforce that is ready to meet the labour market demands of the future. Just look at the appalling attainment gap in maths that was revealed today. The greatest investment that any Government can make is in human capital—in its people—and education is the foundation stone of that.

We should be anticipating the jobs of tomorrow for the industries of the future—industries that we have not even begun to imagine. That is the job that we expect Government to do. Action to grow the economy is of fundamental importance. That should be our primary focus over the next five years, because with a strong economy we generate more income for public services and get a strong society, too.

I move amendment S5M-00212.3, to leave out from second “recognises” to end and insert:

“further recognises however that the Scottish economy faces a number of significant challenges in the coming years; notes that the Scottish economy is growing at a slower rate than the UK as a whole and that the unemployment rate in Scotland has increased, and is higher than the average UK rate; notes the particular challenges facing the oil and gas industry and the renewables sector and that productivity is also behind the UK as a whole; believes that there is no future for Scotland as a low wage, low skill economy and that the Scottish Government must ensure that the benefits of economic growth improve the lives of working people and reduce inequalities; further believes that democracy in the workplace should be encouraged, including trade union recognition, and commits to developing a comprehensive manufacturing strategy with industry and trade unions, extending broadband, improving infrastructure and using the powers of the Parliament, to improve Scotland's economy by investing in growth, increased productivity, jobs and skills.”