Scottish Budget must help business cope with Brexit '“ Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce

Brexit has produced greater uncertainty for business than during the Scottish independence referendum campaign, writes Liz McAreavey, chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce.
Liz McAreavey, chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, is calling for the Scottish Budget to help business cope with BrexitLiz McAreavey, chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, is calling for the Scottish Budget to help business cope with Brexit
Liz McAreavey, chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, is calling for the Scottish Budget to help business cope with Brexit

Can anyone remember such extraordinary political times? It feels like it’s time to wake up from this feverish bad dream and resume normality.

Sadly, this is it. So, with the Scottish Government Budget looming, we can no longer just hope for some serious support for business, the time has come for business to ask.

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Refreshingly, we are seeing increased engagement with business by the Government, so it will be interesting to see if this translates into policy and real business support.

The Scottish Government’s draft budget on 12 December could not come at a more critical time. We are currently trapped in possibly the greatest period of uncertainty I can remember, including the run-up to the independence referendum in 2014.

There is no clear indication how the Brexit soap opera will conclude, especially as this week’s “meaningful vote” has been postponed indefinitely.

So, in these uncertain times, we need a budget from the Scottish Government that unashamedly backs business.

Whether it is the corporation with thousands of employees, or the 81 per cent of Scottish businesses that employ less than 10 people, business is the lifeblood of our economy.

This is particularly true in Edinburgh, which has developed at an unbelievable pace over the past two decades and is set to grow even faster in years to come. By the late 2030s, we could be the largest city in Scotland, with more than 750,000 people.

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Growth in business start-ups in Edinburgh has increased by 18.2 per cent in the past five years, compared to a Scottish average of 10.5 per cent and, reassuringly, the survival rate of businesses in Edinburgh is the second highest in the UK at 44.1 per cent, just behind Leeds at 44.2 per cent. We also have the highest percentage of skilled jobs in the UK at 38.6 per cent, ahead of London at 34.6 per cent. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say a budget that backs Edinburgh is a budget that backs Scotland.

What do we need to focus on? At its simplest, we at the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce want to see progress made in the following areas – plans for a high-performing, post-Brexit economy that supports our exports; measures to tackle our productivity challenge; and support for greater skills training, both in the workplace and beyond.

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We need to ensure that our great city continues to attract talent, whilst simultaneously providing the opportunity for those already here to develop their own capabilities and reach their potential.

The Scottish Government funding to support an internationalisation programme must become a long-term commitment to help us build capability and depth to support more businesses on the export journey. We must also find ways of encouraging small and medium enterprises to invest in the skills and training of their workforce, particularly management training and digital skills.

We are particularly concerned that Edinburgh, Scotland and the wider UK does not become more inwards looking as a result of Brexit, because the more exposed to global trade and global practices we are, the more productive we will be.

One key element of the 21st century economy is that education must not stop when you leave school, college or university. We must constantly keep learning and expanding our skillsets, whether to prepare for increased automation or to enhance productivity levels.

We also need to invest in supporting women returning to the workplace, flexible working and affordable childcare, all of which can unlock huge potential talent.

The signs are encouraging. I know the Finance Secretary has made huge efforts to include other ministers in his economic action group, so there is a more joined-up approach and better understanding of the economic implications for Government policy.

However, the perception that the Government is not pro-business is still strong. We all support an inclusive society but business must now be acknowledged as a key driver of growth that will facilitate improved living standards.

By putting businesses of all shapes and sizes at the heart of his budget plans, the Finance Secretary can deliver a real boost to the city and, by extension, the country as well.