Leaders: Equality only part of answer on economy

There is much to be applauded in the Government's latest economic strategy. Picture: Ian Rutherford

There is much to be applauded in the Government's latest economic strategy. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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CREATING a country that has less inequality, and one that is growing more prosperous, are both laudable ambitions for a government and a society. If there is a question to be asked it is probably around the relationship between inequality and economic growth.

There is much to be applauded in the Scottish Government’s latest economic strategy unveiled yesterday by Nicola Sturgeon There are very few who would say that a strategy “which will combine work to boost economic growth and increase competitiveness with a drive to tackle inequality” is not to be welcomed.

Scotland has closed the productivity gap with the UK over the last two years and it would be great to see productivity increase still further, and the government is right in that very small improvements in productivity can result in big economic gains.

The strategy focuses on four main themes – investing in people, innovation, “inclusive growth” and what they call internationalisation, which essentially means exporting more. One of the more effective ways they put forward to achieve this is probably the establishment of a Scottish Business Development Bank to support businesses with high growth potential, that is vitally needed. More controversial though will be the £10 million to invest on behalf of communities in commercial renewables schemes. It is not clear just how successful this will be in boosting the economy and there are already plenty of critics of the subsidies for renewable energy. The moves to prepare young people for employment are vague and the “refresh” of the oil and gas strategy is so vague as to be meaningless. Strange given the importance the SNP place on this sector.

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Its promises to drive innovation and to develop a new trade strategy are interesting, particularly the “One Scotland Partnerships” which will co-ordinate activity in specific international markets.

The new strategy also focuses on what it calls “inclusive growth” and some of the measures aimed at producing that are £100m to improve education in the country’s most deprived areas and removing barriers to employment – for example, lack of childcare. But the strategy raises a major question. It says it is based on “a fundamental principle – by becoming a fairer society, we will also become a more productive and more prosperous economy”. The question is to what extent greater equality can drive the economy, or does greater equality come as a consequence of a prosperous economy? Do countries become fairer because they are rich or do countries become rich because they are fairer?

And the answer is that, of course, breaking down barriers to work and getting people into work who currently are not in work will help with productivity and with the economy, not to mention wider society, but it is likely to only ever be a part of a strategy to economic growth and a more prosperous nation.

Scandal of those who failed to act

THE scale and the depravity of the organised child abuse in Oxfordshire is appalling. As it was in Rotherham. But what is truly impossible to understand are the similarities in how the allegations were treated by two different police forces and different social work and child protection agencies.

We also know that police are investigating the sexual exploitation of vulnerable children in Scotland by groups of men. In both Rotherham and Oxfordshire, parents who went to the authorities rightly concerned about their children were simply turned away or fobbed off. It is hard to see that in any other way but reflecting the culture that was prevalent. How can we be sure that culture has changed?

Outlining plans to tackle child sexual exploitation, David Cameron yesterday hit out at what he called “walking on by” by people and organisations. But this suggests that passers-by failed to help. It was much worse than that. These were people who were supposed to have been trained and were being paid to intervene. Who were tasked by society with the very specific duty of protecting the vulnerable and victims. Mr Cameron has also proposed a new law in England and Wales that means teachers, councillors and social workers who fail to protect children could face up to five years in jail. That would seem to imply that the teachers, councillors and social workers who failed in Rotherham and Oxfordshire were unable to be held to account. Of course the real villains are the inhuman perpetrators. But for the public, one of the most baffling aspects of this must be the lack of action taken against those public servants who so catastrophically failed.

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