Business Confidence and Promotion of Entrepreneurship

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 7 February 2024.

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Photo of Pam Gosal Pam Gosal Conservative

1. To ask the Scottish Government what measures it will take in the next financial year to boost the confidence of those operating in the business sector and to promote entrepreneurship. (S6O-03054)

I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests, which shows that I own shares in commercial properties, from which I receive no remuneration. I have no running businesses.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government is fully committed to boosting the confidence of our business sector by establishing Scotland as a world-class entrepreneurial nation, which is underpinned by our 10-year economic strategy.

We absolutely believe in the potential for Scotland to be recognised as one of the best countries in which to start and grow a business. We continue to support entrepreneurship, with more than £13 million of funding allocated in the next financial year, and we have also provided £307 million to our enterprise agencies.

Photo of Pam Gosal Pam Gosal Conservative

Research carried out by Survation found that many Scots are increasingly looking beyond Scotland for job opportunities, thanks to the Scottish National Party’s higher taxes. Self-employed people and business owners were the most likely to think about the shift, with 47 per cent saying that they would consider relocating.

Does the minister accept that the First Minister’s vaunted new deal for business is not working? What action will the minister take to make Scotland an attractive location to live and work in?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

In the past few days, I have spoken to a number of businesses in Scotland that are expanding and recruiting more people. They are very confident about the future, particularly in many of the tech sectors and in energy transition areas of the economy. It is an exciting time just now in parts of the Scottish economy, and I do not think that we should talk Scotland down as an attractive location for people to live and work in.

We are also finding that many people are relocating to Scotland, particularly from London. I have spoken to companies that are recruiting well from London because people want to move to Scotland for the quality of life and for the other benefits of Scottish Government policies.

Of course, we must pay close attention to the issues that the member has raised and to the views of the business community. Our new deal for business is the best forum for doing that at the current time, and we are listening carefully to what businesses are saying.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

In the next financial year, businesses in the hospitality sector south of the border in the United Kingdom will receive 75 per cent rates relief; here, they will receive zero relief. Given that those businesses—including hotels, pubs, restaurants and some visitor attractions such as bingo clubs in my constituency—incurred major debt to survive the lockdown during Covid, that is a serious competitive disadvantage. Will the minister urge the Scottish Government, in the forthcoming budget, to match that lifeline rates relief for Scotland’s hospitality sector?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I thank Fergus Ewing for highlighting the challenges that many hospitality businesses in Scotland face at the moment. It is a mixed picture. I have spoken to many hospitality businesses that are expanding and are investing significant amounts of resource for the future. I have just returned from a tourism summit in Islay, where I spoke to many local businesses. There are many challenges on Islay, and throughout the whole country, in the hospitality sector. However, under Scottish Government policy, we estimate that 63 per cent of hospitality businesses will not pay any rates whatsoever. Of course, as part of the current arrangements, the budget extends to relief for island hospitality businesses, to help to address the particular challenges that many of our islands are facing.

We continue to look at all those issues, but we face a very difficult budget settlement from the UK Government, so we cannot achieve everything that we would like to achieve in the draft budget. Many of the factors that the hospitality sector has expressed to me relate to increased raw material costs due to inflation, increased interest rates and increased energy bills, so the source of the problem is very much at the UK level. We continue to bring those matters to the UK Government’s attention, as well.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I ask for briefer supplementary questions and responses.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

There is a good deal of concern about the impact that the draft budget will have on our enterprise agencies. Will the minister outline how many businesses were supported by enterprise agencies in the past year as compared with pre-Covid times?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I am happy to look into that. As I am sure that the member would have expected, I do not have the figures to hand. However, I met enterprise agencies this morning and they were pointing to some of the significant success of companies that they have been supporting over the past year. I expect official statistics for that to be released in the coming weeks.

Our enterprise companies are carrying out a great deal of fantastic work supporting our business community in Scotland. That is why our exports and inward investment projects in Scotland are doing very well compared with the rest of the UK. The enterprise companies are doing a fine job supporting the business community.