Business Support

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 2nd December 2020.

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Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

The debate is very important, and it has provided the Scottish Government with an opportunity to highlight some of the support packages that it has introduced this year. However, it is clear that there is still more to do; I do not think that any member in the chamber would say that there is not.

I welcome all the support that has been introduced so far by both Governments, as I highlighted a few weeks ago in a similar debate. I will not be churlish and ignore the finance that has come from the UK Government. However, it is important to recognise that it has come not from the Treasury savings account but from the Treasury credit card. Nevertheless, it was the right thing to do.

I touched on the furlough scheme in a previous debate. In general, it has been of huge assistance. However, as we know, there have been eight different versions of the furlough scheme announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, three of which have not been implemented. Although the extension of the scheme until March 2021 will help to prevent job losses, it has come too late for many businesses and workers in all our constituencies and regions.

Some businesses had already taken the difficult decision to make people redundant because of the unnecessary confusion caused by the UK Government and the expectation that the furlough scheme would be withdrawn. Some of those jobs and businesses may have been saved if the UK Government had stopped its London-knows-best approach and listened to others for once. It took six months of pressure from the Scottish Government and others to eventually get the chancellor to do a U-turn on the furlough scheme. I say to the chancellor and the Scottish Tories that it is clear that many businesses did not have six months to waste.

No one can deny that, with Covid-19, 2020 has been an unprecedented year. In addition, in just under four weeks’ time, we are going to crash out of the European Union—the most successful trading bloc—against our will. As things stand, no deal has yet been reached, which adds even more uncertainty to the chaotic picture that we have been witnessing for months.

Business talks about certainty, and the pro-union side spoke all about it during the 2014 independence referendum. There is certainly no certainty now. There is no certainty about leaving the EU or about business success post Covid-19, unless we are talking about the supermarkets. I have been critical of Tesco in the past, but I welcome its announcement today, and I would like the other supermarkets to do the same. There has been no certainty from a London elite who care little for other parts of the four nations and who act only when decisions affect the south. The north-west of England can tell that story, too.

I have seen how the Scottish Government, with the limited financial powers of this Parliament, can assist businesses in my constituency. When Texas Instruments announced that it was going to close its Greenock plant and make nearly 300 people redundant, after many months and a huge effort by many people, the Scottish Government’s investment of over £13.7 million, as part of a £47 million package of total investment, saved those jobs. Those jobs have remained, which is helping the small business sector in my community.

When Ferguson Marine in Port Glasgow was about to go under, the Scottish Government used its powers to save the yard and the 300 jobs in it. More jobs are being created, including apprenticeships, and they are helping the economy in my community.

With the full financial powers of independence, more of the business support that has been requested or demanded could be delivered—obviously undertaken in partnership with the business community. Acting swiftly—as compared with the dither and delay by the UK Government on the furlough scheme—would certainly help, and more certainty could be provided for the economy, as the Scottish Government could be responsive and would not need to wait for the Barnett consequentials in order to do things. With independence, the Scottish Government can cut out the sophistry of the UK and get on with the job of governing for the business community and for the people of Scotland.