A new department should be created to help businesses sell online as part of a new economic model to boost skills and growth, the Scottish Conservatives have said.
Conservative MSP Dean Lockhart argued his party were putting forward “ambitious proposals that would transform the skill system in Scotland” and increase economic growth.
In a Scottish Parliamentary debate, Mr Lockhart admitted Brexit was creating uncertainty but suggested Scotland’s economy needs to keep pace with digital developments.
“That’s why we have proposed the creation of an institute of technology and e-commerce – an agency that would work together with a new Scottish exporting institute to help up to 3,000 firms a year move their business online to access new markets.”
Last week, the Scottish Fiscal Commission (SFC) downgraded its economic forecast for 2019 to 0.8% and predicted the loss of more than £1 billion from the Scottish Government’s budget over the next three years.
“The need for a new economic model has never been greater,” Mr Lockhart said, referencing the forecast by the SFC that “Scotland’s economy will continue to underperform for the next four years”.
Arguing for “a new approach to skills and lifelong training”, he said the prediction “shows that Scotland has become a low growth, low wage and low-skilled economy”.
Mr Lockhart outlined the Scottish Conservatives’ policy to replace the current school leaving age of 16 and introduce a “compulsory skills participation age”, keeping people in school, college or training, or a job with a training element.
“We would introduce a new lifelong skills guarantee – a proposal that Government, helped by business, would guarantee that anyone who wants to retrain or upskill during their career will get a chance to do so,” he said.
Business Minister Jamie Hepburn defended the performance of the Scottish economy, praising high exports compared to the rest of the UK, record low unemployment and rising productivity.
He said: “The greatest challenges we face in being able to deliver the Scotland of our ambitions are the constraints and the powers of this Parliament, compounded by the uncertainty currently being created by Brexit and the UK Government.”
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard directed criticism towards the Tories for a historic squeeze on wages and the level of child poverty in Scotland.
He also told the SNP another independence referendum “is the last thing we need”.
Mr Leonard added: “The Scottish Labour Party is always happy to take any opportunity to make our case for real and radical economic change, for more investment and less austerity, for more planning and less market, and for more democracy because too much economic power lies in too few hands.
“It is good to hear Conservative representatives moving a motion in this Parliament in favour of a high-wage economy, it is a pity that where they are in Government they will not support a real living wage and have presided over the biggest fall in real wages for 200 years.”