Cost-of-living crisis: CBI boss urges Nicola Sturgeon to work better with business leaders

The head of the Confederation of British Industry has issued a plea to Nicola Sturgeon to work better with business leaders, claiming he is "yet to hear" appropriate measures to help firms.

Tony Danker said there "isn't enough" dialogue with Scottish ministers as he declared freezing business rates was the CBI's "top ask" of the Scottish Government.

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Cost-of-living crisis: Scottish councils 'facing increased energy costs of aroun...

Mr Danker, director-general of the CBI, called on politicians to work together to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, as happened during the Covid crisis.

CBI director-general Tony Danker. Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA

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Details of a UK Government scheme to help businesses cope with rising energy bills are expected to be announced today.

Newly-appointed business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg is expected to announce how firms, schools, hospitals, charities and other non-domestic consumers will be spared some of the pain of rising gas and electricity bills.

Bills for an average household will be capped at £2,500 from October 1, and firms have been promised an equivalent package.

Many are reporting projected increases in energy costs of more than 500 per cent.

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Ms Sturgeon is due to set out an emergency budget review in coming weeks.

Mr Danker said the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government, which was published earlier this month, showed the First Minister was "incredibly focused on the help needed for households", but added there was "not very much about business".

He said this "surely has to come" and referenced measures "almost from the Covid toolkit" such as freezing business rates.

Mr Danker said: "Any of those measures that will help businesses get through the scale of this – I think we're yet to hear them and I'm looking forward to hearing them from the Scottish Government."

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He added: "We would like to work with the Scottish Government on this. I'm a big fan of the Scottish Government, but I would love them to work with us more in the design of solutions.

"What did we learn during Covid? We learnt it at the CBI working with [former chancellor] Rishi Sunak on the furlough scheme.

"If you have us in the room early, you have successful schemes. It's not rocket science.

"If you don't have us in the room early, then you come up with a scheme inside Government that you think is going to work and, lo and behold, it doesn't work in the market."

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Mr Danker continued: "We stand ready to work with the Scottish Government to design the measures that will really work this time, rather than them hitting in hope or sitting in a Government room hoping that this will work."

The CBI director-general said the impact of hybrid working on city centres makes the "business rates question so absolutely vital".

He said: "I don't think you can stand up and lament the state of our high streets while you've got what are frankly the highest business rates of all our major economies."

Asked about Ms Sturgeon's relationship with business leaders, he said: "I would just like there to be more of it. I had a great meeting with the First Minister earlier this year – her first trip back to London after the pandemic, she came to the CBI leaders’ dinner.

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"We had a brilliant meeting beforehand. We talked about Scottish competitiveness, we talked about Scottish productivity, we talked about Scotland as a place to invest, and there just hasn't been enough follow up.

"There isn't enough of that dialogue. I think the dialogue's great when we have it, but there isn't enough of it.

"Now look, it's a hard time to be in Government, and so I don't expect her to be clearing her diary for business leaders.

"But all I would say is that the more they engage, the better the solutions, and the better the solutions, the more prosperity for Scotland."

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Mr Danker was speaking to The Scotsman earlier this month, before news emerged about the Queen's death.

Elsewhere, he backed plans by Prime Minister Liz Truss to scrap a proposed increase in corporation tax.

He said most businesses would feel putting up corporation tax "by six points in the middle of a recession now looks like a very stupid idea".

He added: "However, I think also, it's the pre-profit taxes that really hit businesses hardest.

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"So whether or not that's business rates or the apprenticeship levy, it's the stuff you pay before you make profit – that stuff is, if anything, more important than corporation tax."

Scottish Government Business Minister Ivan McKee said: “We recognise the enormous pressures facing businesses during the current crisis and have been engaging with them, directly and through organisations like the CBI/FSB, to best understand their needs.

“We are currently considering a range of measures to support businesses, factoring in any measures announced by the UK Government, which holds key policy levers. Along with businesses we have repeatedly called on the UK Government to take urgent action.

“The Scottish Government will continue to focus its resources where they make the biggest difference to people and businesses and will continue to engage regularly with businesses as we develop our approach.”

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