Making business pledge work is a two-way street

Some people in business will have thrown their hands up in horror when hearing politicians talking about the Scottish Business Pledge and perhaps wondered who was pledging what to whom and what the underlying purpose is.

Nicola Sturgeon launched the Scottish Business Pledge. Picture: Julie Bull

Having attended the First Minister’s launch of this Scottish Government imitative, I am a little comforted that we have a direction of travel which most can sign up to while realising that some businesses will have significant challenges in meeting the core target of paying the living – rather than the minimum – wage.

Scotland does, though, have its fair share of industry sectors who really do struggle with wage levels and getting much beyond the minimum wage standard – notably construction, agriculture, hospitality, social and child care. Many of the issues causing low pay relate to the inability or unwillingness of the customer to pay more.

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The other part of this drive to put more money into the pocket of lower paid people as well must be the recognition by government that they take money from these individuals in the form of income tax and national insurance. They need to look at themselves as well to see if they can stop that before laying all the blame at the door of the “exploitative” private sector.

Business people in my experience do believe in social fairness and equity, earned through hard work, up-skilling and effort. The corporate social responsibility is immense – from sponsoring a local community team to funding a nationwide tour by Scottish Opera.

The other side of the business pledge was rightly recognised by the First Minister – the need for the government to play its part in building a successful economic environment in which business can thrive and create the wealth. Building physical and broadband infrastructure, as well as committing to continuing input to education and skills development are key parts of a government’s facilitation role to allow business to grow across Scotland.

The ambition for a better, more successful and fairer Scotland is hard to argue with, but the implementation will be harder and must be a committed two-way agreement if it is to work and certainly if it is to sustain.

David Watt, executive director, Institute of Directors Scotland