Covid-19 economic recovery supremo warns Scottish Government 'don't have the levers' to invest enough to help country rebound

Benny Higgins said that the key to the Programme for Government is what gets done, rather than what is planned.
Former Tesco Bank boss Benny Higgins who said it is crucial the Scottish Government follow through on its programme for governmentFormer Tesco Bank boss Benny Higgins who said it is crucial the Scottish Government follow through on its programme for government
Former Tesco Bank boss Benny Higgins who said it is crucial the Scottish Government follow through on its programme for government

Economic supremo Benny Higgins has warned the Scottish Government it must follow through its programme for government with action in order for Scotland to have a chance of recovering from the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Higgins, the former Tesco Bank chief who chaired the Covid-19 economic recovery advisory group, repeated assertions that the Scottish Government lacked the borrowing powers required to fully combat the impact of the crisis.

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He told the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee in Holyrood that it was crucial the government followed through on its promises in its programme for government, particularly in regard to young people, echoing criticism from the Scottish Liberal Democrats that plans are often not completed.

Mr Higgins said it was “disappointing” that the programme did not mention the four pillars of capital approach mentioned in his group’s report back in June and said he hoped it was not the case of it “being dropped as quickly as it was picked up”.

He added: “When we read through [the programme for government] there is a great deal there as it should be.

“The challenge isn’t whether or not the announcement of things that are going to be done or planned are being announced, it is whether they get done or not.

"We’ve never lived in a time where it is the execution of plans and the execution of change which matters any more than it matters today.

"The test isn’t writing it down, the test is doing it, and what we need to see in the country now is quick progress on things that matter most to give us confidence moving forward.”

Mr Higgins continued by echoing Scottish Government pleas for more borrowing powers which would help the recovery from Covid-19.

He said: "The Germans, who are not a bad guide as to what you would do in these circumstances, have, post the emergency steps, are investing stimulus of four per cent of their GDP.

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"Four per cent of Scotland’s GDP is £6 billion. Within the fiscal framework we are restricted to £450m which is 0.3 per cent of GDP so quite frankly we don’t have the levers to invest the amount which would be reasonably required as stimulus to come out of this crisis.

"I don’t think it is reasonable or feasible for us to imagine that we could change the whole fiscal framework in a time frame that is consistent with the emergency that we face.

"So I think we have to somehow find a way to work with Westminster to either get them to invest something that is commensurate with the crisis and spread through the devolved nations or find some other mechanism.

"At the heart of it we don’t have the capacity to unilaterally invest the kind of numbers, even if it wasn’t four per cent, two per cent is £3 billion, and these numbers at the moment are a long long way away from the amounts being invested.”

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