Nicola Sturgeon: New Cabinet role will help support business

Nicola Sturgeon will appoint a dedicated economy secretary devoted to protecting jobs in addition to a finance secretary when she names her Cabinet next week.

Nicola Sturgeon pictured at the Kelpies in Falkirk after her election victory. Picture: Michael Gillen

The SNP leader said the portfolio will be created to engage with industry to encourage economic growth, following an election campaign that saw her party’s policies criticised by business figures. The appointment comes as Scotland faces challenging economic circumstances with the decline in the North Sea oil sector.

The new role will take over many of the responsibilities previously carried out by the finance secretary, giving the latter more time to devote to the new tax and welfare powers coming to Holyrood.

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John Swinney is expected to hold on to the post of finance secretary, a role which will become more like the Chancellor at Westminster, in its focus on tax and spending. Candidates for the economic position may include Derek Mackay, Humza Yousaf or Keith Brown.

During the election, a host of organisations, including the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, were highly critical of the planned large business supplement, saying it would put Scottish businesses at a competitive disadvantage to those south of the Border.

Ms Sturgeon said she felt the SNP’s business rate proposals were “right and balanced”, but also said she would take “listen very carefully” to the business community.

She admitted there was “a feeling that the burden of business rates doesn’t always fall on the right shoulders”.

The First Minister added: “We will have a long, hard look at that and take decisions after that which we consider to be in the best interests of businesses and the economy.”

Announcing her plans, Ms Sturgeon said: “Jobs and the economy will always be a top priority for the government I lead. But during this period of continuing economic fragility, that will be especially and particularly so. At the same time the parliament will be preparing to take on new powers on tax and welfare spending.

“So that’s why when I announce the new Cabinet next week, I will for the first time in the SNP’s time in office separate responsibility for the economy from responsibility for finance.

“I intend to appoint a dedicated Cabinet secretary for the economy. His or her time will be focussed entirely on supporting the economy and engaging intensively with business to make sure we are doing everything possible to stimulate growth, boost productivity and help and protect well-paid jobs.

“There will also be for the first time a dedicated finance secretary responsible for the Scottish budget and for the introduction of the parliament’s new tax and welfare powers.”

Ms Sturgeon also said that as First Minister she was prepared to subject herself to more parliamentary scrutiny.

With her opponents claiming that the last parliament was too dominated by government, Ms Sturgeon said she would like to see First Minister’s Questions extended from half an hour to 45 minutes.

Ms Sturgeon added that the First Minister should be questioned by committee conveners four times a year.

She also suggested she was sympathetic to the idea of committee conveners being elected, saying: “The principle of direct election, where committee conveners are accountable to the parliament rather than any party, is a principle that has a lot of strength.”

Although Holyrood reform is a matter for parliament, not government, Ms Sturgeon said she would be writing to the new Presiding Officer to make her suggestions formally.

Last night the Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: “With significant new powers on their way to Holyrood, it makes sense to split the portfolio in this way. It will also allow the voters to see exactly which SNP minister is trying to put their taxes up.

“And while the briefs may be divided, we can’t forget that they will still be interlinked. If taxes are increased, that will very much have an impact on the wider economy. We want to see more taxpayers, not more taxes.”

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “With the creation of this new Cabinet level position the First Minister is sending a strong and positive signal that she wants to prioritise the economy and private sector growth.

“With half of VAT receipts being assigned to the Scottish Parliament, our politicians at Holyrood have a direct stake in facilitating a flourishing retail industry.”