SNP's flagship strategy to boost Scotland's economy disowned by union leaders

A flagship strategy to boost Scotland's economy over the next ten years has been disowned by trade union leaders shortly after its launch by SNP finance secretary Kate Forbes.

The STUC, a key stakeholder, branded the Scottish Government's National Strategy for Economic Transformation a "missed opportunity".

Entrepreneur and philanthropist Sir Tom Hunter called it "a long wish list with no magic wand to deliver it”.

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Finance Secretary Kate Forbes. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/PA Wire

Ms Forbes said the ten-year vision demanded a "ruthless focus on delivery", adding: "In Scotland, we face a choice to either lead or lag behind other successful economies."

The Government's modelling estimates the strategy could boost Scotland's economy at least £8 billion, or 4.9 per cent above trend, by 2032.

But Roz Foyer, general secretary of the STUC, who sat on the advisory group, said it was "more a strategy for economic status quo than economic transformation".

Ms Forbes launched the document at the Michelin Scotland Innovation Parc in Dundee, in front of an audience of entrepreneurs, business leaders, industry experts and trade union representatives. Newspapers were invited to watch online, but were unable to ask questions.

Ms Forbes said ministers wanted Scotland to be one of the most successful economies in the world.

However, she said some of its "structural challenges" predated the pandemic, including slow productivity, demographic risks and inequality.

The finance secretary outlined six key “policy programmes”: establishing Scotland as a world-class entrepreneurial nation; strengthening its position in new markets and industries; making its businesses, industries, regions, communities and public services more productive and innovative; developing a skilled workforce; creating a fairer and more equal society; and focusing on a "culture of delivery".

From the summer, all Government grants will require recipients to pay staff at least the living wage.

The strategy will see the creation of an “investor panel” led by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to raise funds for net zero projects, with Ms Forbes urging businesses to “seize the opportunity” to transition away from carbon-emitting practices.

It aims to “dramatically increase” the total number of new businesses created in Scotland, with a chief entrepreneurship officer to be appointed within government.

Other schemes in the 56-page document include a “talent attraction programme” to attract people from the rest of the UK.

Ms Forbes said: “We must now be bold, ruthless and laser-focused to maximise the impact of the actions we have identified.

"We all know the challenges of our day – the short term and the long term – but through the tumultuous times of the past, Scotland has pioneered solutions, created jobs and established highly successful businesses.

"The opportunities of decarbonisation, new technologies and successful industries are far greater than the challenges.

“This is a unique moment and we are ready, willing and able to lead the way and ensure Scotland capitalises on the opportunity.”

In a foreword to the document, which makes only a passing reference to the SNP’s desire to hold a second independence referendum, Ms Forbes insisted more could be delivered with "the full powers of an independent country".

She said: "The economic prospectus for an independent Scotland is being prepared ahead of an independence referendum and will set out how those additional powers can be deployed to build greater prosperity over the long term."

Ms Foyer, who represents more than half a million Scottish workers in trade unions, said the strategy "has a sprinkling of good ideas and we have successfully argued for some strong lines on the importance of fair work, decent pay and the role of trade unions, but overall, it is a missed opportunity to address the challenges before us and make real, transformational change".

She said: "The public sector has an enormous role to play in our economic transformation yet it is barely mentioned in the Scottish Government’s strategy.

"Neither is there any mention of tax, which is crucial to tackling inequality and raising revenue.

"Paying lip-service to community wealth building and the desire for a well-being economy will not deliver the change needed.”

Sir Tom, one of Scotland's most prominent businessmen, said: “What we have here is a long wish list with no magic wand to deliver it, which I do not believe is market tested nor pragmatic.

"We need a far more focused approach to economic delivery and one single body with absolute authority and responsibility for that delivery, with no one checking their own homework.”

Ewan MacDonald-Russell, head of policy for the Scottish Retail Consortium, said it was “heartening to see the commitment to a retail strategy and recognition of the impact the pandemic has had upon the Scottish retail industry”.

He added: “However, retailers would have liked to see greater clarity on what steps are going to be taken to keep down the cost of doing business.”

Tracy Black, CBI Scotland director, said business will welcome the ambitions set out in the strategy “as the right path for Scotland’s future economy”.

She said: “The finance secretary is also right to recognise the importance of delivery in turning high-level ambition into action, with business playing a vital role as a trusted partner.”

Scottish Conservative finance spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “The SNP’s National Strategy for Economic Transformation was, in reality, a thin and underwhelming collection of platitudes.

“It has some lofty aspirations, with far too few concrete plans for delivering economic growth.

“Beneath the buzzwords, this speech contained the telling admission that many of the problems in the Scottish economy – slow productivity growth, skills shortages, entrenched regional inequalities and poverty – predate Covid.

"That’s a damning indictment of the SNP’s record in power over the last 15 years."

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie dismissed the strategy as "same old, same old".

He said: "The SNP have been publishing plans, strategies and consultations like this for 15 years, but the record of action is embarrassing.

"If fine words created jobs, we’d have full employment under the SNP."

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