Scotland Budget: SNP ministers urged to send message that nation is 'open for business'

SNP ministers have been urged to send a clear message that Scotland is "competitive and open for business" in this week's Budget.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) called for a package of measures, including tax breaks and moves to boost the country's transport infrastructure.

This includes scaling up the roll-out of electric vehicles as new petrol and diesel cars are phased out.

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SNP Finance Secretary Kate Forbes

The business body also urged ministers to "digitise" public transport through ticketless travel, smart payment options and "multi-modal fare options", allowing Scots to pay one fare across different modes of transport.

Elsewhere, the CBI called on the Scottish Government to “avoid further divergence on income tax rates” from the rest of the UK.

CBI Scotland director Tracy Black said the emergence of the new Omicron variant was "undoubtedly a cause for concern and has highlighted the importance of protecting public health while we build economic recovery".

She said: "Firms recognise that this is a difficult balance for government and will continue to do their part by putting the safety staff and customers first as we learn to live with the virus.

“As we look to rebuild Scotland’s economy in the face of complex challenges and heightened global – and domestic – competition, we need to focus on key drivers of growth to ensure Scotland remains a top destination for talent and investment.

“That means creating an environment where business investment is rewarded, vital skills and infrastructure prized, and significant resources committed to areas – like the green economy – that offer the best chance for long-term success.

“Government alone can’t deliver Scotland’s economic recovery. We need private enterprise, whether from home or abroad, to step up with the ingenuity, innovation and investment needed to get the economy motoring again.

“A Budget that sends a clear message that Scotland is competitive and open for business would be a real step forward on the journey to a greener, fairer economy that creates opportunities for all.

"We’ve had plenty of discussion and debate, now is the time for delivery.”

The CBI said business rates relief should continue as the economy rebounds, while the rates system should be altered to encourage green investment.

Meanwhile, it called for measures to boost workforce training and urged ministers to "develop a clear, joined-up ‘invest in Scotland’ pitch that resonates with investors and puts Scotland ahead of international and domestic competitors".

It came as economics experts at the Fraser of Allander Institute warned this week’s Budget would be “really challenging” despite finance secretary Kate Forbes having been given the largest-ever block grant from Westminster in the history of devolution.

David Eiser, an economist at the think-tank, said having a block grant 8 per cent higher than before the pandemic “might well sound generous, but actually I think to deal with the pandemic’s legacy and the pressure on public services it is really not very generous at all”.

Scottish Conservative finance spokesman Liz Smith said: “The CBI is right that Scottish businesses and industry need vital support if our economy is to recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic.

“That’s why the Scottish Conservatives are calling on the SNP to commit to an extensive package of business support in Thursday’s Budget, designed to save Scottish businesses an estimated £600 million next year.

“Like the CBI, we are calling for a full year of 75 per cent rates relief for leisure, hospitality, retail, aviation and newspaper sectors, a freeze on the poundage on rates for all premises, and a rates exemption for decarbonisation upgrades for businesses transitioning to net zero.”

The Tories also warned the SNP not to “cave in” to the Greens by cutting spending on upgrades to Scotland’s road network.

The party said Scotland’s trunk road network was in desperate need of improvement and dualling the A9 and A96 was essential and long overdue.

Ms Smith said: “Large sections of Scotland’s road network have been neglected by the SNP for years, risking the safety of drivers and putting off potential investors in our economy.

“It’s time the SNP finally made good on previous pledges to carry out these essential upgrades.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Supporting Scotland’s economic recovery will be at the heart of the 2022/23 Scottish Budget.

“We acknowledge the tough conditions Scotland’s businesses face as a result of Covid-19, which is why the Scottish Government has provided more than £4.4 billion in support.

“This year’s Budget is expected to be challenging as a result of the continued pressure on our public services and the substantial reduction in our funding from the UK Government.

"However, we will ensure all investment is focused on helping businesses, communities and households as Scotland continues to recover from the pandemic.”

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