Living Wage (Support for Rural Businesses)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 22 November 2023.

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Photo of Emma Harper Emma Harper Scottish National Party

1. To ask the Scottish Government how it is supporting businesses in rural areas to become accredited living wage employers. (S6O-02749)

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

In the absence of legislative powers to mandate a living wage, which are reserved to Westminster, we fund the living wage Scotland team at the Poverty Alliance to deliver living wage employer accreditations and to promote the benefits of a real living wage to businesses, rural and urban, across Scotland. As a result of that effort, Scotland now has more than 3,400 living wage accredited employers situated across all 32 local authority areas and covering a range of industries and sectors.

Scotland leads the United Kingdom with 91 per cent of employees earning at least the real living wage and, proportionately, it has five times more accredited employers than the rest of the UK.

Photo of Emma Harper Emma Harper Scottish National Party

Rural and small businesses that I regularly visit across Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders report that they would like to become accredited living wage employers. However, it is often the case that, due to the nature of rural employment, such as seasonal working, small and changing workforces and the costs associated with becoming accredited, it can be difficult for small and medium-sized rural businesses to do so. Will the cabinet secretary provide any further information about the steps that can be taken, such as through enterprise agencies, to support rural businesses to deliver fair work practices such as the real living wage? I remind members that I am a living wage employer.

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

I thank Emma Harper not just for her question but for her work in this area. We appreciate the challenges that many employers have faced due to the pandemic, Brexit and the rising cost of doing business, and that some sectors and regions, particularly in rural areas, continue to face difficulties.

The Scottish Government’s fair work action plan commits to supporting employers

“to utilise the resources ... available to embed Fair Work in their organisations.”

We have made fair work first guidance available and have developed a fair work employer support tool with our enterprise and skills agencies. I pay tribute to the work of South of Scotland Enterprise and its partners to encourage the uptake of the real living wage in Emma Harper’s region.

We will continue to work with partners to join up provision of advice and support for employers through a central fair work resource, making it as simple and efficient as possible to use.

Photo of Mercedes Villalba Mercedes Villalba Labour

Does the Scottish Government know how many of Scotland’s 1,125 rural estates are accredited living wage employers? Will the cabinet secretary join me in calling on any estates that are not yet accredited to register today?

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

Yes, I think that anyone who has the ability to make that choice and move to being a real living wage employer will see the benefits in lower attrition rates and greater productivity in their business. Of course, regardless of the sector, I would encourage employers across Scotland to become real living wage employers.

Photo of Beatrice Wishart Beatrice Wishart Liberal Democrat

Can the Scottish Government outline any assessment that it has made of the growing number of business that are accredited living wage employers, of the impact on the horticultural sector and of the future of the Scottish agricultural wages board?

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

This area is under active consideration across Government and different portfolios. We recognise that there are challenges in different elements of the economy, and the agricultural sector is one of those. We are looking to do all that we can to provide support to employers, regardless of sector, to ensure that the benefits of being a real living wage employer can be realised.

At the same time, we understand some of the challenges in those areas, and we would be happy to discuss them further with Beatrice Wishart.