Scottish Government's ten year plan for economy dismissed as a 'strategy for status quo'
Scottish trade unions have disowned a new Scottish Government blueprint for the economy, describing it as a strategy for the "status quo".
The row with the STUC overshadowed the long-awaited publication of the new National Strategy for Economic Transformation.
The 10-year plan has been months in the making. It’s been written by the government "in conjunction" with the Advisory Council for Economic Transformation, which includes business people, academics, economists and representatives from the unions.
The final report identifies five “key priority programmes” covering workers and new market opportunities to “deliver economic growth that significantly outperforms the last decade within the current constitutional arrangements.”
Actions touted in the plan include creating an investor panel, chaired by the First Minister, to “grasp the opportunities of the Just Transition to net zero.”
This panel will be focused on “attracting investment” and promoting Scotland as an “innovative test bed for new technologies and markets”.
Other actions include setting up a Digital Productivity Fund to help businesses adopt new technologies, launching a Centre for Workplace Transformation to “support experimentation in ways of working post-pandemic”.
The plan also proposes the creation of a Chief Entrepreneurship Officer in the Scottish Government to “work in partnership with industry and investors to drive forward our ambitions on entrepreneurship” and embedding “a culture in which entrepreneurship is encouraged, supported and celebrated, and where Scotland is recognised as one of the best countries in the world to start and to grow a business”.
As part of the “fairer and more equal society” programme in the plan, the government will “apply fair work conditionality to grants, requiring payment of real living wage, and channels for effective workers’ voice” as well as delivering “sectoral fair work agreements in areas of low pay, in partnership with industry and trades unions, that deliver payment of the real living wage, better security of work, and wider fair work first standards.”
Roz Foyer, STUC General Secretary who sat on the advisory group, said the final report was more “a strategy for economic status quo than economic transformation.”
She added: “The National Strategy for Economic Transformation 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.
"The main engine of the Scottish economy is the foundational economy. Unsurprisingly it is also the biggest employer. It encompasses transport, retail, energy generation, distribution and importantly education and public services. So, at the heart of the NSET should have been a strategy to increase pay and improve terms and conditions in these sectors. Investing in public services offers huge opportunity to support sustainable growth while tackling poverty and inequality.
"Over the coming years, we face enormous challenges, none greater than the journey to net-zero, a journey that must be carefully planned to ensure we create good, secure jobs that do not leave communities abandoned. Whilst the NSET talks about the potential for future development in the renewables and low carbon economy it fails to acknowledge previous failures or, more importantly, how we can learn from them and build a new industrial strategy.”
Launching the plan at the Michelin Innovation Parc in Dundee, Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said the government needed to be “bold, ruthless and laser-focused”.
“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.”
A sixth objective of the scheme is to create a "culture of delivery" around the other five programmes, with Forbes chairing a board that will monitor progress and measure success.
The government was criticised for not allowing journalists to ask questions at the launch of the plan.
Labour’s Daniel Johnson said: "You know a government is in trouble when it bans journalists from press events.
"For years, we have been calling for the SNP to produce a proper economic plan for Scotland. Our nation has had no proper industrial strategy, no plan to boost entrepreneurship, no plan for sustainable and well-paid jobs since the SNP took control 15 years ago.
"Now, we have the SNP announce a bundle of new ‘consultations’ and ‘advisory panels’ but nothing of real substance. The lack of press at the launch event says it all - the SNP have run out of steam."
Scottish Tory Shadow Secretary for Finance and Economy Liz Smith said the strategy was "thin and underwhelming".
“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.
“Once again, the SNP’s obsession with independence shines through. The Finance Secretary cites separating Scotland as the solution to all the ills the SNP have created or exacerbated, even though the economic case for independence has never been weaker."