We want Scotland to be an attractive place do business and to invest. To achieve this ambition we need to support businesses to explore new markets and foster innovation.
New figures published earlier this week underline the scale of our investment in our economic future – in Scotland spending per head on supporting businesses and the economy is double the UK level.
While the UK Government has scrapped Economic Development Agencies in England and is expected to cut Department of Business spending by 53 per cent by 2020, the Scottish Government has a solid record of achieving for businesses.
Since the SNP came into office the number of businesses in Scotland has gone up by over 90,000. We are offering the most competitive business rates package anywhere in the UK, and our Small Business Bonus Scheme is supporting 100,000 small businesses by reducing or removing entirely their business rates.
As a former owner and manager of a small business I wish that I had had this support – amounting to up to £4,500 a year. When the Tories and Labour ran Scotland neither gave any help to small business and both even charged Scottish-based businesses higher rates than England!
This support for businesses has, in turn, boosted our economy: we have seen three years of continuous economic growth; international exports have increased by 17.3 per cent since 2010, compared to a 15.9 per cent increase for the UK as a whole; and productivity is now outperforming the UK.
More than ever, Scottish businesses are innovative and they are attracting investment from across the world. Spending on research and development has gone up by 44 per cent since the SNP came to office, while it only increased by 10 per cent in the UK over the same period. And in every year since 2006 Scotland has been in the top two regions outside London for foreign investment.
We’ve also seen employment rise to the highest level on record and the highest of the four UK nations. Youth unemployment is at its lowest level for a decade and a record number of school leavers are in education, work or training. Day and daily, I and the great teams at Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Skills Development Scotland are working hard to help existing businesses to grow and set up new ones. We support enterprise and creating jobs and wealth through growing business.
Of course some businesses do close. Where there are major closures, we have set up taskforces in order to ensure concerted action designed above all to help each individual worker facing redundancy and our PACE (Partnership Action for Continuing Employment) team provide one to one support. Both the Scottish Government and our Enterprise Agencies also provide all practical support we can to help businesses through difficult times.
We are making real progress towards making Scotland a more prosperous and fair country. But we recognise that a number of challenges remain, and with the limited powers that the Scottish Parliament currently has, we must do everything we can to support businesses.
We are currently reviewing planning and will ensure that it helps business grow and achieve its potential. We have passed the Regulatory Reform Act which makes sure that all regulators must take into account of the need for economic growth and development.
We’ve already committed, if re-elected, to maintaining the Small Business Bonus Scheme for the entirety of the next Parliament and will carry out a review of the business rates regime to ensure it continues to support growth and investment.
Over the coming weeks we will set out more detail on how we will continue to support Scotland’s businesses and build on our achievements to keep Scotland moving forward.