First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today announced an assorted selection initiatives aimed at helping businesses in general – and parts of the Scottish energy sector in particular.
Speaking at Holyrood, she said: “The success of our economy is essential to all of our aims. So I am today setting out a bold ambition. We intend to make Scotland the best place in the UK to do business.
“We intend to become the real Northern powerhouse, the UK location of choice for businesses looking to locate, expand or invest.
“We will do this by a determined focus on the four pillars of our economic strategy – investment in people and infrastructure, innovation, internationalisation and inclusive growth.”
She pledged to support Scottish Government support for the North East oil and gas industry by extending the work of the Energy Jobs Taskforce for a further six months and also to ‘prioritise key sectors where we have a competitive advantage – including low carbon and renewable energy industries”.
Sturgeon added: “Of course, for many of our businesses a real restriction on growth is a lack of access to finance. That’s why we are setting up a Business Development Bank – and by the end of this year, we will have published the timetable for establishing it.
“But, today, I can announce an additional significant initiative to provide practical assistance to businesses with the greatest potential to fuel our growth.”
“This autumn, we will establish a new £40 million Growth Fund for small and medium sized enterprises. It will provide microcredit finance up to £25,000, loans up to £100,000 and equity investment up to £2 million.
Sturgeon also pledged to consult on legislation ‘to give more power to island communities’ and ‘to secure devolution of the crown estate in Scotland’ – as promised in the Smith Commission after last year’s Independence Referendum – and to work with local communities to ensure they benefit from that.
The SNP Government in Edinburgh also pledged to cut jet tax (aka air passenger duty) by 50% by the end of the next parliament, will begin in April 2018, when we introduce a replacement Scottish tax – an early indication of how we will use our new powers to encourage growth and jobs.
And in a throwaway line, Sturgeon also promised to bring in a Lobbying Bill to ‘take some practical steps to improve our democratic processes’ by introducing a public register of lobbying activity.
While the first minister hopes this will pass with little notice, it will inevitably once again re-ignite fresh controversies over prospective different treatment for public-sector lobbyists and state agencies (such as Scottish/ Highlands Enterprise using taxpayers’ money to lobby Scottish Government Ministers) and private sector lobbyists.
These issues were fought to a stalemate in the Standards Committee inquiry in the last session of parliament with neither majority or unanimity of key issues and definitions (above).