Calls for Holyrood to appoint business secretary

FSB Scottish policy convenor Andy Willox reckons Scottish small business need an advocate at the top table. Picture: Contributed
FSB Scottish policy convenor Andy Willox reckons Scottish small business need an advocate at the top table. Picture: Contributed
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THE next Scottish Government should appoint a business secretary to represent the interests of small firms, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has said.

The organisation, which has around 19,000 members in Scotland, has called for the creation of the new post in a manifesto in advance of next year’s Scottish Parliament election.

The FSB points out that the UK Government model separates the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Business Secretary.

It said the time was right for Scotland to follow suit as new fiscal responsibilities are transferred to the Scottish Parliament next year.

Andy Willox, FSB Scottish policy convenor, said: “Scottish small businesses need an advocate at the top table, distinct from the person who holds the country’s purse strings.”

The FSB also wants local economies to be treated as a priority, with more investment in communities and better information on how they are performing.

Mr Willox said: “Headline economic statistics suggest that Scotland has made up some ground since the downturn. But these figures tell us nothing about the reality of doing business in Portree, the job prospects in Perth or the high street in Paisley.

“If the next administration is committed to a fairer and more prosperous Scotland, they must get under the bonnet of individual communities.

“They must develop new ways to turn around failing places and ensure that local economies aren’t perilously dependent on a small number of mobile large employers or industries.

“We need to build communities that are more resilient to global economic shocks - and that means spreading our risk by broadening and strengthening our small business base.”

The organisation wants the Scottish public sector to spend 10 per cent of its procurement budget with businesses with fewer than 10 employees by 2021, arguing the move would bring an additional £250 million into the country’s smallest firms every year.

Mr Willox said: “Evidence shows that procurement spending with smaller firms delivers more for local economies.

“We believe that asking Scottish public bodies to spend one in 10 procurement pounds with micro businesses over the course of the next parliament is a realistic and achievable target.”

The manifesto also calls for reform of the business rate system, action to improve broadband and mobile coverage, better online services for businesses and financial penalties for public bodies that close local offices and buildings.

Business Minister Fergus Ewing said: “Many of us in the Scottish Government, including myself, were running our own small businesses before being elected as MSPs.

“I believe that enables us to understand their perspective, views and desires and the problems they face.

“That is why, for example, we introduced the small business bonus which now benefits very nearly 100,000 businesses with lower business rates - and which we have already pledged to continue through the lifetime of the next Scottish Parliament, if we are re-elected as the Scottish Government next May.

“We very much welcome the FSB contribution to the debate and look forward to continuing to work with the FSB to discuss their ideas over the coming months.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We welcome and actively consider proposals designed to boost sustainable and inclusive growth across Scotland as a whole.

“These recommendations will feature in our on-going dialogue with FSB Scotland officials and members, recognising that the Scottish Government is already investing in business support, digital infrastructure, and the Small Business Bonus Scheme.”

Jackie Baillie MSP, Labour spokeswoman for public services and wealth creation, said: “We recognise how important small business is to the economy of Scotland, and how small business will be at the heart of building a successful Scotland

“Next year’s Scottish Labour manifesto will be the most pro-enterprise ever. To regain the trust of the people of Scotland we will offer a positive vision for transforming our country.

“That includes a renewed relationship with those who generate the wealth Scotland needs to make our country a fairer place to live.”

Green MSP Patrick Harvie said: “Scottish Greens want to see a small business revolution. Compared to larger corporations they are more likely to be locally owned, have roots in the community and circulate profits and wages locally.

“All too often what is called the voice of business is the voice of big business; it’s time Scotland listened to its SMEs, as they support almost half of all private sector jobs.

“It’s time we supported small firms rather than giving generous public grants to multinationals who are here today, gone tomorrow.”