Nicola Sturgeon set out “bold” plans to make Scotland a technological global powerhouse yesterday as she seeks to refresh her SNP government after a decade in power.
The First Minister signalled a shift in emphasis away from the traditional reliance on oil and gas towards high-tech industries which will “shape the future” of the global economy, during a keynote speech in her native Ayrshire yesterday.
The speech placed the economy in the political centre ground as the SNP leader prepares to unveil her programme for government next week when MSPs return to Holyrood from their summer recess.
Scottish firms must be ready to design and make the “products of the future”, while workers should prepare for a new era of automation and robots taking on more tasks, Ms Sturgeon told staff at Spirit Aerospace in Prestwick.
“I am determined that Scotland leads on the key technological and social changes,” she said. “I want Scotland to be the inventor and producer of the innovations that shape the future, not just a consumer of them.”
Life sciences, aerospace, renewables and financial technology are among the industries being targeted to boost growth alongside traditionally strong sectors such as tourism and food and drink.
Ms Sturgeon told MSPs in June that her government would use the summer to “take stock and refresh” after ten years in power, before setting out a new vision for the country. A series of measures were unveiled yesterday to boost growth, including an increase in public support for research and development work from £22 million to £37m per year for the next three years.
Next week’s Programme for Government will also deliver additional support for the financial technology industry and there will be help for new work on carbon capture and storage technology after the UK government pulled the plug on a pioneering £1 billion scheme which Peterhead was in the running to host.
Ms Sturgeon will also lay out plans to make Scotland an “early adopter” of electric vehicle technology, with the UK government already pledging to outlaw new fully-petrol engines by 2040.
The First Minister pledged to set “clear and bold ambitions not just in the interest of our environment, important though that is, but also of our economy”.
The Scottish Government is proposing further support for graduate entrepreneurs and help for companies to access finance. Other measures will be set out in the coming weeks.
Scotland’s economy has rallied in recent months. GDP enjoyed growth of 0.8 per cent in the first three months of 2017, which allowed the country to escape formally falling into recession after the economy shrank in the final quarter of last year. Unemployment is now below UK levels.
However, the oil and gas industry shows little sign of getting back to the lucrative revenue levels seen before the 2014 financial crash, and Brexit also presents a challenge to businesses.
Last week’s GERS figures showed Scotland has a fiscal deficit of £13bn, more than twice the UK level.
Ms Sturgeon said yesterday: “The relatively slow economic growth we’ve seen in the last couple of years, largely caused by the downturn in the oil and gas sector, demonstrates the need to do even more to promote sustainable growth to ensure that growth is spread more evenly across economic sectors and across all parts of our country.”
More will also be done to encourage businesses in Scotland to sell their products overseas, as currently half of all exports currently come from just 70 companies.
Ms Sturgeon’s speech saw her confirm that the Ayrshire-based firm Spirit, where she was speaking, has won a contract to manufacture the spoilers for the wings of the new Airbus A320 aircraft – a deal that will create 100 jobs.
But the economic proposals the First Minister set out were dismissed by political opponents.
Scottish Conservative economy spokesman Dean Lockhart said: “The SNP need to fundamentally change their economic approach, but that’s not what we’re seeing here.
“Under ten years of the SNP we’ve seen low growth, low productivity, and not enough innovation. That’s not good enough for an economy with a world-class workforce, and some of the world’s leading universities.”
Scottish Labour’s economy spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “The SNP has a woeful record of managing our economy. Despite Nicola Sturgeon’s spin and bluster, earlier this year the SNP led us to the brink of recession and growth still remains lower than the rest of the UK. This is simply not good enough.”