CBI Scotland strengthens relationship with SNP
Report from the CBI Scotland fringe event at the SNP conference
The director of CBI Scotland has distanced has himself from the CBI’s position on independence during last year’s referendum.
The CBI’s relationship with the SNP appeared to have warmed considerably as CBI Scotland director Hugh Aitken shared a stage with Deputy First Minister John Swinney at a CBI-sponsored fringe event on economic growth at the SNP conference.
In response to a question from the floor about whether the CBI regretted its decision to align itself with the no campaign, Aitken replied:
“They regret the position and they apologised very quickly, as far as I know, to the SNP government after that,” he said.
“It won’t happen again, I can assure you,” he said.
When asked to clarify whether he meant the CBI regretted registering as a participant in the campaign or opposing independence as a policy, he confirmed he meant registering as a participant.
The CBI’s position on independence appears unchanged. CBI Scotland’s manifesto states: “We believe Scotland’s brightest future will be as a part of the United Kingdom within a reformed European Union”.
John Swinney indicated that all was forgiven, saying: “We are where we are on this question. Hugh’s a fresh broom and he’s come in and swept an awful lot of things away and I think he and the CBI deserve credit for doing that and we move on.”
This was the first time the CBI had attended an SNP conference.
Aitken was living in California at the time of the independence referendum and took up his post with CBI Scotland at the beginning of this year.
Swinney said that Aitken had come to see him very early in his days in office.
He told delegates that he intended to take forward the conversation with the CBI on how to work collaboratively to strengthen the Scottish economy.
It is “very important that Government has good, open conversations with all business organisations in Scotland,” said Swinney.
Much of the discussion centred on skills gaps, but Aitken told delegates the CBI wasn’t sitting with arms folded waiting for the Government to deliver on skills.
“We commit to doing the heavy lifting,” he promised.
The fringe event was based on CBI Scotland’s manifesto for business, which sets out the priorities it would like to work with the Scottish Government on over the next three years.
Priorities for the first year are setting out a roadmap for how new and existing tax powers will be used to drive business growth, creating a business-led board to provide Skills Development Scotland with strategic advice on business need and creating to a shortlist of transport infrastructure projects with both business buy-in and cross-party support.
Targets for the following two years include using money raised through the apprenticeships levy to improve workforce skills, making digital connectivity part of the infrastructure of national and local authority projects and closing the gap between statutory maternity pay and free childcare.
Setting out CBI Scotland’s future role, Aitken said: “I want to be very positive with the SNP government in Scotland and the Westminster government and go on the front foot and work positively with them developing a business future that is competitive without of Scotland and within the UK environment.”
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