A more successful country, with opportunities for all to flourish

We are approaching the ten year anniversary of the SNP’s first election to government. In that time, we have faced a global economic downturn and years of Tory cuts.

In the face of challenges, it’s easy for some to forget the strengths of Scotland’s economy.

We have substantial natural resources, one of the most highly educated workforces in Europe, a long-standing reputation for innovation and an internationally-recognised brand.

We are world leaders in key industries of the future, such as life sciences, financial services and financial technology, creative industries and sustainable tourism.

Under the SNP, productivity growth is four times as fast the UK, as measured by output per hour worked. Scotland has the highest pay anywhere in the UK outside London and the South East. And, the number of registered businesses in Scotland is the highest on record.

Despite these strengths, our economy faces key challenges – challenges we are determined to address in government.

Supporting Scotland’s businesses

Growing Scotland’s business base – and helping it to be more innovative and international – is a key priority for this SNP government.

We’ve cut taxes for business. Since it’s introduction the Small Business Bonus Scheme has saved business over £1.2 billion in rates. This year we expanded it, removing the rates burden entirely for 100,000 business properties.

We’re supporting businesses here at home go global. Our Scottish Growth Scheme is providing up to £500 million over three years in investment guarantees and loans for companies with the potential to grow and export more.

Open for business

Scotland remains the top destination, outside of London, for attracting foreign direct investment. But there’s much more we want to do.

We’re making sure the world knows that Scotland is open for business.

This month the First Minister has been in the USA, one of our most important export markets, to promote trade and investment between our countries. Fresh investment by US firms in Scotland has been announced, supporting and creating new jobs across the country.

Following the result of the EU referendum, it is ever more important that the rest of Europe knows Scotland is still open for business. We’re doubling the number of Scottish Development International staff working in Europe to support investment and trade opportunities.

And, we’re establishing permanent trade representation in Berlin, adding to our existing hubs in Dublin, London, and Brussels.

Improving connectivity

As well as connecting businesses to international markets, we’re making major infrastructure investments to connect them to their markets here in Scotland.

We’re investing £400 million to deliver superfast broadband to 95 per cent of properties in Scotland by the end of this year – and we’ll reach 100 per cent by 2021.

We’ve invested twice as much per head in the rail network in Scotland – and built the longest new domestic railway to be built in Britain in a century. And later this year we will deliver the £1.35 billion Queensferry Crossing.

Overall, £6 billion of projects were under construction or completed last year – just one of the ways we’re supporting jobs.

An inclusive economy

In government, our guiding principle has been to create an economy that is not just competitive, but open to all.

Tackling inequality is a challenge for all developed societies, with strong evidence that it has harmed growth. In the UK, the OECD estimates rising inequality has reduced economic growth by 9 percentage points.

This makes a fundamental point: reducing inequality isn’t just good for society, it is an economic imperative.

Professor Joseph Stiglitz, a member of the Scottish Government’s Council of Economic Advisers and a renowned Nobel Laureate said “tackling inequality is the foremost challenge that many government’s face. Scotland’s Economic Strategy leads the way in identifying the challenges and provides a strong vision for change.”

Our commitment to fair work is a key part of this. I am proud that we were the first government in the UK to pay the real Living Wage to all staff – and the first to be an accredited Living Wage employer.

And, in contrast to the approach of the UK government, we work closely with trade unions and employers together to boost productivity and encourage fair work practice.

I am mindful, however, of how far we still have to travel to achieve a truly inclusive economy. Nowhere is that more clear than in our work to achieve gender equality.

We’ve launched major initiatives in early years care – in recognition of childcare’s importance in encouraging parents to return to work. We’ve established a Returners programme to help women who have had career breaks back into work. And we’re leading a 50:50 campaign to encourage organisations and businesses to commit to boardroom gender equality by 2020.

As the First Minister said in her speech to Stanford University this week, if we underuse the talents of half of our population, we needlessly impoverish ourselves. I am not prepared to tolerate that.

Since 2007, that has been this government’s central purpose: to create a more successful country, with opportunities for all to flourish. And that’s the job we’re getting on with today.

Keith Brown MSP is Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work

Get the facts on Scotland’s economy here.