Resetting the relationship with business is a core priority for the Government. On Tuesday, I set out plans to agree a new deal for businesses and the introduction of a new group, to be co-chaired by the Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work and Energy, that will explore how Government can better support our businesses and communities using all the policy levers that we have at our hands.
During my visit to the Port of Aberdeen, I announced, as I have already said, £25 million to be invested in the just transition away from oil and gas. That was the first of many meetings that I have planned as part of an extensive programme of engagement with business and industry leaders across all of Scotland’s sectors to identify priority areas of challenge and opportunity. Later today, I will meet the main business organisations to personally reiterate my commitment to that new working relationship and to talk about how we can deliver on our mission to have a fairer, greener and growing wellbeing economy for all of Scotland’s people.
The Scottish Government’s commitment to agree a new deal for business has received an extremely positive response from the business community, and we all agree that it is absolutely vital that we work together constructively to develop our wellbeing economy.
Given the substantial pressures that many businesses are facing from rising costs and a disastrous Brexit, it is clear that urgent and sustained action is needed to maximise the support that is available to them. Can the First Minister say any more about the steps that the Scottish Government is taking to ensure that it can best support our businesses using the full amount of policy levers that it has at its disposal? Does he agree that we would, if full powers over our economy rested with this Parliament, be much better placed to support our businesses to thrive?
Of course we would. I can hear groans and jeers from the Scottish Conservatives, so let us hear what the chairman of the Office for Budget Responsibility said about the impact of Brexit on the United Kingdom economy. He said that it was of the same “magnitude” as the impact of the Covid pandemic and the energy price crisis. In addition, the Centre for European Reform has found that Brexit has cost the UK a staggering £33 billion in lost trade. This is not just the opinion of the Scottish National Party-led Scottish Government; it is the opinion of experts in the economy who are saying that Brexit has seriously impacted on trade in the UK and in Scotland.
Businesses are the backbone of the economy—I am the proud son of a small business owner. That is why the new deal for business, which I articulated in our policy prospectus on Tuesday, is so important. It is crucial. Through the Scottish budget, we responded to business’s biggest ask on non-domestic rates by freezing the poundage for 2023-24, which it is estimated will save ratepayers £308 million.
We will continue to use the powers of devolution that we have to the absolute maximum effect in order to grow and transform our wellbeing economy. However, I agree with Audrey Nicoll that we need significantly increased policy levers to ensure that Scotland will be wealthier, fairer and greener, and that the wellbeing of our people is enhanced. Until we have that, I am afraid that the Scottish Conservatives will continue to have the levers that, as we can see, they use to harm our people and our business and trade, here in Scotland.
That question goes to the heart of the Conservatives’ hypocrisy. They demand that we go further in tackling the climate emergency, yet anything that we do—including, for example, a review of sections of the A96 for climate compatibility—they oppose. It does not matter what the Scottish Government tries to do to ensure that we tackle the climate emergency in order to leave a cleaner and more sustainable planet for future generations—the Conservatives will always oppose it.
We are absolutely committed to dualling the A9 as well as the A96 from Inverness to Nairn, including the Nairn bypass. I have already said to my good friend Fergus Ewing that we will bring forward a timetable on that as soon as possible.