An accountant’s guide to Scotland’s future prosperity – Craig Vickery

Anti-racism protesters stage a march in Leith to say migrants are welcome (Picture: Ian Georgeson)
Anti-racism protesters stage a march in Leith to say migrants are welcome (Picture: Ian Georgeson)
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After Brexit, Scotland will need to find new ways to attract skilled migrants, improve the skills of its own workforce, build the infrastructure a modern economy requires and make better political decisions, writes Craig Vickery.

The aim of the annual Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) statistics is to “enhance public understanding of fiscal issues”.

Whoever is in office at Holyrood will decide the expenditure of the country. And what should unite our political parties is the need to enhance national income and taxation revenue, to train and attract skilled people and bring high income jobs to Scotland.

Growing the economy and making Scotland an even more attractive place to live, work and study is the paramount goal of our policymakers.

But there are challenges ahead, first of which is the current status of Brexit negotiations. Recent statistics also show that unemployment has risen, while the number of Scots in work has fallen. The job market of the future requires a diverse and broad range of skills to be successful and to be relevant in a fast-moving world.

Firstly, we know that skilled migration in particular is needed to continue the growth of our population, and our economy. Those coming from overseas to make Scotland their home tend to be younger, but we can do more to encourage people to stay for longer or settle in remoter rural and island areas. And we can do more to retain the local population too. Local economies and small businesses are particularly reliant on the accounting profession, which will be of vital importance in exports in the future and be part of the ingredients of success for tomorrow’s Scotland.

Secondly, with the economy virtually at full employment, the question of how Scotland will retain and continue to attract talent post-Brexit, particularly in the financial, hospitality and agriculture sectors must be answered. We must also embrace the need to upskill and retrain people already in employment.

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Here at accountancy body ACCA, we’re evolving our continuing professional development and mentoring programmes to help the accounting profession to adapt – recognising that the accountant of the future requires a diverse and broad range of skills to be successful and to be relevant in a fast-moving world. Our career patterns and pathways are evolving – the certainties of a few years ago are replaced by organic and stimulating opportunities. Ensuring that we develop and maintain the relevant accountancy skills and knowledge is essential. Through our ‘accelerate’ internship programme we have helped students from Glasgow Caledonian University and the University of the West of Scotland secure internships and paid employment with local employers – including a former forklift driver and Greggs baker who made a career change after 19 years!

We are also piloting a Scotland-wide apprenticeship programme with Robert Gordon University, enabling people to get a degree and qualify while in employment.

The value of international students

The UK Government’s positive announcement last month on extending the visa stay of international students post-graduation is welcome, and a step towards recognising the tremendous value international students bring to our society, economy and universities.

This move enhances the attractiveness of the UK, and Scotland, as a place to live, work and study – with our world-leading universities – as well as opening up routes into the highly skilled roles that enrich our local economies. The accountancy profession is committed to providing access to education so that anyone with the ability has the opportunity to become a finance professional – wherever they are from around the world.

Lastly, our MSPs need to continue to examine how we can be even more connected – how business and government can work together to develop innovative solutions and build the infrastructure required to support a more modernised Scottish economy.

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Whether it is full-fibre broadband connectivity or renewable energy projects – Scotland must adapt to rapidly changing climates and demographics to deliver quality, strategically important infrastructure.

Modernising the Glasgow-Edinburgh rail link or dualling the ‘spine of Scotland’ A9 road will be substantial steps towards securing Scotland’s economic and social development, and laying the very foundation on which our national well-being will be built.

But it is a challenge to complete large projects on time and on budget. Clear decision-making, innovative funding mechanisms, proper monitoring and oversight are critical to providing taxpayer value for money.

Offshore energy boom

Innovation in public spending was the subject of a recent report from ACCA and Chartered Professional Accountants Canada, and it found a lack of political leadership was the single biggest barrier to meeting infrastructure needs. This absence leads to the prioritising of new projects over necessary maintenance. To mitigate this, the UK and Scottish governments should collect data on the potential of existing assets and the performance of previous projects.

Next year Glasgow will be the proud host of the international climate change conference, COP26. This will see Scotland taking centre stage and leading the global conversation on climate change.

To combat the global tide of rising emissions and sea levels, Scotland has invested billions more into offshore energy – as Scottish renewable electricity reached record levels in the first quarter of 2019, enough to power around 88 per cent of Scottish households for a year.

Scotland’s renewable energy sector in particular continues to go from strength to strength. The billions of pounds of investment in offshore renewables in Scotland could create thousands of sustainable and skilled jobs.

Building the world’s first tidal arrays will enable us to be more sustainable and boost marine energy’s remarkable potential.

Armadilla – the garden accommodation company that Finance Secretary Derek MacKay visited to announce the GERS figures – says its products fulfil a demand for “something different, something special”.

The Scottish economy demands the very same innovative approach to secure our joint future and prosperity.

Craig Vickery is the head of ACCA Scotland