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I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. I acknowledge all the people across Scotland who day in and day out come up with innovative and exciting ideas. Scotland has a proud history of innovation, from well-kent inventions such as disposable contact lenses; bank automated teller machines, or ATMs; the magnetic resonance imaging scanner; the human papillomavirus vaccine, which is the world’s first vaccine designed to prevent a cancer; and the popular video game “Grand Theft Auto”; to more futuristic Scottish inventions such as the functioning acoustic tractor beam and the fabric Metaflex, which is basically an invisibility cloak—I am intrigued by that one.
Scotland has always led the way in science, technology and medicine. Central to innovation is manufacturing, which accounts for more than 181,000 jobs and 54 per cent of our international exports. In Scotland, 55 per cent of business expenditure is dedicated to research and development, which allows the creation of life-altering products, scientific advances and medical breakthroughs that often become world renowned.
Key to that innovation is ensuring that we equip our population with the skills, technical expertise and ability to thrive and create. I am chuffed that the Scottish Government has introduced a range of measures that give communities, individuals and businesses the skills, support and materials that they need to succeed. One such scheme is the can do innovation challenge fund, which supports many SMEs in Scotland. To date, more than 100 SMEs have applied for that funding and £1.36 million in contracts has been awarded.
A business worth a mention is York Technology, near Gatehouse of Fleet, which the minister visited with me recently. The managing director is Khalid Alvi, who has designed a machine called a balanced-coil needle detector, which is used in the manufacturing of clothing, including children’s clothing, and improves safety by detecting any broken-off needle tips that might be retained in garments after they have been sewn.
That is a great piece of innovative technology that supports good quality control checks in the manufacturing of clothing.
Mr Alvi contacted me this morning and noted that the minister had connected York Technology with the managing director of Johnstons of Elgin, which is a cashmere clothes maker. The minister met that managing director at an official function. Both managing directors are now able to meet to discuss York Technology’s product and see whether any opportunities exist to help Johnstons of Elgin’s product safety regime. If the minister can continue to make such good connections for York Technology with other producers, Mr Alvi will be very pleased.
There are many fantastic schemes that promote Scottish innovation. However, it would be remiss of me not to mention that the uncertainty that exit from the EU is causing is leading people, businesses and investors to fear coming to Scotland. Many parts of rural Scotland rely on EU structural funding, which is often match funded by the Scottish Government. On Friday, I attended the official opening of the newly redeveloped Stranraer millennium centre, which was part funded by EU rural development funding and the Scottish Government as well as by other key, important partners. Money from that fund has allowed for refurbishment and a Changing Places room, which has made the place fully accessible. That modern hub will be at the heart of Stranraer, and it will promote the area and encourage conferences, events and businesses to it. European money is crucial for rural development in my South Scotland region.
If we are forced out of the EU without a deal, the future of those vital structural funds will be in question. I would like the minister to address the impact of that on our communities, especially in rural Scotland.
Despite Brexit, the Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that all of Scotland can benefit from growth deal funding. I am pleased that the UK Government recently made a commitment to match Scotland’s ambition for 100 per cent coverage of growth deals in Scotland. That has allowed the Borderlands and Ayrshire growth deals in my South Scotland region to go ahead. Although the UK Government has fallen short by £20 million on Borderlands funding, those deals will allow for investment in innovation and economic growth across the region.
Finally, I want to ask the minister about support for one small business. What current support is there for LadderLimb, which is an innovative product that is made in my region, to access EU and American markets?