Scotland has many underlying economic strengths: our highly educated workforce, our immense natural resources and our thriving industries, such as energy, life sciences and tourism. Under the SNP Government, Scotland has the most competitive business tax environment in the UK and the number of registered businesses is at an all-time high. We are consistently ranked in the top two areas outside London for foreign direct investment, as has been alluded to in the debate, and Scotland has been the most successful part of the UK outside London for the fifth time in six years, which is a record to be proud of.
The small business bonus scheme has supported small and medium-sized businesses throughout some tough economic times, and in my constituency—indeed, throughout Inverclyde as a whole—more than 1,200 small businesses have benefited from that Scottish Government initiative.
However, air passenger duty is one of the highest taxes of its kind in the world, which, in my opinion, does not make any sense. The Scottish Government’s proposal to get the power over air passenger duty and then abolish it will increase Scotland’s international connectivity and boost our local tourism industry.
The Government is also investing in superfast broadband and has an ambitious programme to roll it out to 100 per cent of properties across Scotland.
Central to the Scottish Government’s success has been its record on using capital investment to build strong foundations for the Scottish economy. Within a year of being elected to government, the Scottish Government faced huge challenges both within Scotland and the UK and globally. The financial crash happened in 2008, and the Scottish Government had to navigate its way around that. To do that, capital investment projects were accelerated to ensure that infrastructure was built that would increase Scotland’s competitiveness in the years to come.
The figures speak for themselves. Today, Scotland spends more per head on infrastructure than is spent elsewhere in the UK and infrastructure projects totalling almost £6 billion will be under construction during 2016; each of those projects will continue to deliver benefits for years to come. Long-term infrastructure projects mean massive employment opportunities, which the SNP Government is striving to help Scottish businesses to harness.
Without doubt, tourism is one of Scotland’s key economic contributors. Overnight visitors generate in excess of £4.5 billion annually, while day visitors contribute a further £6.2 billion, giving a total spend of close to £11 billion per annum. Tourism accounts for more than 200,000 jobs, many of them in rural areas, which helps less-populous communities to prosper across 20,000 different tourism-related businesses. Tourism also feeds into other sectors such as food and drink, retail, transportation and construction.
I mentioned digital connectivity. The quality of the customer journey increasingly depends on the availability of digital information—unless, of course, you are Murdo Fraser in this Parliament. In most instances, the customer journey starts at home, with website searches at the planning stage. Information about destinations, accommodation availability and events and attractions along the route is increasingly important for visitors who want to travel within Scotland, and reliable broadband and mobile phone connectivity across Scotland is essential to support growth in the visitor economy as well as other economic sectors.
Improvements to our digital infrastructure are therefore necessary. That is an issue for not just rural but urban Scotland, as became even more apparent to me during the recent Scottish parliamentary election, when I found gaps in connectivity in the Greenock and Inverclyde constituency.
The foreword to “Scotland’s Digital Future: Infrastructure Action Plan” sets out
“our commitment to a world-class, future proofed infrastructure that will deliver digital connectivity across the whole of Scotland by 2020.”
Bringing superfast broadband to Scotland is one of the most ambitious infrastructure programmes in the whole of Europe. It is a key step in the Scottish Government’s aim for Scotland to become a world-class digital nation by 2021.
The cruise market sector is a developing part of the Scottish tourism offering, and Scotland is seen as performing strongly in the market. If we are to maximise potential in that regard, operations need to be at the premium end of the market, and investment is needed to address identified issues. An increased number of port calls will lead to an increase in shore excursion offerings and profile destinations. The benefits of the market to the Greenock and Inverclyde constituency will be huge.
The upcoming city deal investment will bring economic benefits to Greenock and Inverclyde. More than £40 million is to be invested in the Greenock ocean terminal, and a state-of-the-art visitor facility will be constructed. The port is the gateway to the west of Scotland; it also offers people who arrive opportunities to see more of Inverclyde and learn a bit about the area. I am delighted that the ocean terminal will be one of the first areas to benefit from the investment.
The Government believes in investing in ways that foster inclusive growth, because inequality threatens the long-term sustainability of our economy.