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For centuries, Scotland has reached overseas for commerce and culture. Contacts through the years were particularly strong with the low countries, France, the Hanseatic league, the German nations and so many more. Sadly, most of those relationships came to an end following the treaty of union in 1707, with the consequent narrowing of our horizons to focus on the rest of the UK and its empire.
In more modern times, we have again taken up our natural instinct to reach out, to our neighbours and further afield, to establish new and revitalised trading links around the globe, particularly with Europe. In the face of a seemingly inevitable Brexit, which will seriously damage the strong links that have been established with Europe, I welcome the Scottish Government focusing on growing our exports and seeking to maintain and nurture our businesses as a trading nation.
Boosting Scotland’s export performance is important. It is important to Scotland’s economy, encouraging jobs to be created and growing GDP, both of which will lead to increased resources so that public services can be improved and we can make Scotland an even more attractive place to live in and trade with.
It has been a decade since the beginning of the financial crash and the subsequent great recession. It has also been a decade since the introduction of the Scottish Government’s national performance framework, which measures performance and progress on the Scottish Government’s economic priorities.
The time is right to review and refresh. It is vital that Scotland remains a good place in which to do business and I welcome the Scottish Government initiative to ensure that the Scottish business environment enables businesses to achieve their potential. It is an unfortunate reality that in Scotland businesses are more often being acquired than scaled up. If the money is reinvested back into the Scottish economy, that can be beneficial, but it can also result in the loss of entrepreneurial role models and experienced people to manage larger-scale businesses based in Scotland.
Targeted employee-ownership policies and incentives might help to keep business ownership in Scotland. Other policies could provide the anchoring effect that is needed to embed businesses in Scotland, including ensuring that there is adequate investment from not just the Government but other sources. We need more large businesses based in Scotland to support those coming through the pipeline.
I welcome the Scottish Government’s economic action plan, which states that, to improve the ability of Scotland’s businesses to export, we will build on the recommendations of the enterprise and skills strategic board to set out a range of detailed actions in “A Trading Nation”. The 10-year plan for growing Scotland’s exports to achieve 25 per cent of GDP is ambitious, as all Scottish Government plans should be. I welcome the £20 million of new investment over the next three years to achieve that. I welcome investing £2 million over three years in intensive support for 50 high-export-growth businesses per year to ramp up overseas ambitions activity; creating 100 new business-to-business peer mentorships per year for new exporters; expanding the network of in-market sector specialists working in overseas markets to identify untapped potential and connect Scottish businesses to exploit that; and increasing export finance support for Scottish companies looking to enter new markets.
Last week, the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on Germany had Dr Ulrich Hoppe, director general of the German-British Chamber of Industry and Commerce, as a guest speaker. He spoke about the importance of imports and exports between the UK and Germany and the specific importance of trade relationships with Scotland. During his presentation, Dr Hoppe quoted national statistics and said that 10 per cent of Scottish exports are sent to Germany, which represents our third highest non-UK exports; the only countries above Germany in that regard are the Netherlands, with 15 per cent, and the USA, with 12 per cent. Dr Hoppe was clear that Scotland is highly valued in Germany and across Europe as a great place to trade with and said that, despite the never-ending Brexit debacle, Scotland continues to be valued across those countries. We should welcome and build on that.
The Scottish Government needs to do all that it can to boost the Scottish economy, and exports are very much key to that. Again, I welcome the Scottish Government’s initiative.