Dismay voiced over delay to Scotland’s economic transformation plan

SCOTTISH business figures have reacted with dismay to the delay of a much-anticipated national strategy which will seek to transform the economy over the next decade.

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes declared on Wednesday that it was “not the right time” to publish the blueprint, citing the demands of dealing with the Omicron variant which from Boxing Day will see the reintroduction of restrictions in sectors such as hospitality, retail, sport, events and nightclubs. It was initially envisaged that the document, which has been guided by a council of leading Scottish business figures, economists and academics, would be published in the autumn when the plans were first revealed in July.

The decision to delay the publication comes after Sir Tom Hunter, one of Scotland’s most successful entrepreneurs, told The Herald this week that the Scottish Government would be judged “by their actions, not their words” amid ongoing concerns that ministers are not listening to the needs of business in the continuing fight against the pandemic.

Responding to the delay in the publication of the economic transformation plan, Liz Cameron, chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “Scotland’s business community eagerly anticipate the publication of this long-awaited strategy, and many will be disappointed with this further delay to its publication. The return to economic growth remains in the balance and Scotland’s businesses and our employees are working incredibly hard to survive the latest round of restrictions and enhanced regulations. Businesses are suffering and their focus right now is on survival, but they need to see a long-term economic plan.”

Financial services veteran Guy Stenhouse, former managing director of Noble Grossart and chairman of Shancastle Investments, branded the decision to delay the document a “bad mistake”, declaring that the “recovery from Covid makes the need for a long-tern strategy more important, not less”.

Mr Stenhouse said: “Covid should not be used as an excuse for delay. The SNP Government seems to be able to plan for a referendum to break up the UK, which would be catastrophic for Scotland’s recovery, but apparently cannot prioritise the strategic plan which business actually needs.”

Entrepreneur Robert Kilgour, founder and chairman of Scottish Business UK, said it is “not entirely helpful” that the plan has been delayed. “It will be interesting to see whether the ideas they come up with will catch on and if the extra time taken to deliver it will truly reflect the current issues we face especially with new uncertainty because of the Omicron variant,” he said. “It may seem a bit harsh to pre-judge the impact of a report that has not yet been published however all signs point to it falling flat due to an intransigence over the constitution.”

Colin Borland, director of devolved nations at the Federation of Small Businesses, said the “immediate issue for everyone is dealing with Omicron and the economic fall-out from the restrictions imposed to combat its spread”. He noted: “Given the serious predicament in which many businesses in Scotland now find themselves, that needs to be the priority and it’s natural that this will take precedence over longer-term strategy work.”

But Mr Borland said policy makers must be aware of the need for long-term economic planning.

“The challenge, as ever, is to do what needs done now, while not losing sight of the longer-term objective of building a fairer, more resilient and more sustainable economy,” he said. “Such an economy must be built on harnessing the power of local businesses and entrepreneurship and we will of course continue to make this case at every opportunity.”

Leading entrepreneur Lord Willie Haughey, founder of City Facilities Management, said “it is hard to have a go with anyone who puts the pandemic up as an excuse for a delay”. He added that “it may not be a bad thing, if it allows them to factor in the damage caused by the second shut down”.

Lord Haughey told The Herald: “What I would say, it will have to be bold and imaginative and properly costed, there is no doubt many businesses are suffering, they will need help to survive. I hope entrepreneurism is at the heart of the strategy.”

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, flagged that the economic transformation plan was not the only anticipated piece of government work that will now be pushed back. He said ministers’ response to A New Future for Scotland’s Town Centres, which contains a raft of proposals to revitalise Covid-hit urban centres, has also been delayed.

Mr Lonsdale said: “The immediate priority is helping firms weather the current crisis brought about by the pandemic and government restrictions, and then short-term action to boost the economy in the first half of the new year. However, when the strategy is published it’s essential it takes account of the enormous damage done to Scotland’s businesses by the last two years of restrictions and outlines a clear path to rebuild the economy – with a focus on delivering economic growth above other conditions.”

Stuart Patrick, chief executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, said:”While the business community is eager to see the Scottish Government’s 10-year economic plan, it is not unreasonable to delay plans under such circumstances that we find ourselves in. Taking time to understand the full economic and business impact of Omicron and reviewing the help that badly affected sectors like hospitality, tourism and aviation need will be critical in our recovery.

“It is also essential that city centres are a key focus.”

Ms Cameron added: “Businesses stand ready to support the Scottish Government’s ambitions for economic transformation and it’s important this strategy is published at the earliest opportunity with clear, measurable and urgent actions contained within it as a priority in the New Year.”

“This is time critical to ensuring Scotland remains competitive both domestically and internationally in the years ahead.”

Previous ArticleNext Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *