Business leaders urge Sturgeon to prioritise economy with ‘back to work’ message

Nicola Sturgeon is being urged to give Scots a “clear message that it’s safe to go back to work” as part of efforts to boost the country’s economy.

Business leaders at CBI Scotland have set out a series of “concrete policy recommendations” for the First Minister, who is due to announce her Programme for Government next week.

But as well as putting in place measures to improve skills and invest in the “green economy”, CBI Scotland director Tracy Black told the SNP leader that to “build confidence” in the post-pandemic recovery, Scots should be given the green light to start returning to the office.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon is being urged to turn ‘lofty ambition’ for Scotland into ‘economic reality’ (Jane Barlow/PA)

Ms Black said: “During the election campaign we had parties of all stripes telling business that economic recovery was their number one priority.

“With skills shortages biting, stock levels dropping and the cost of materials soaring, it’s vital that the SNP, and their Scottish Green partners, use the Programme for Government to make good on their promise to prioritise our economic recovery.

“Part of that mission is to build confidence in the recovery by sending a clear message that it’s safe to go back to work and encouraging individuals to get out and spend money.”

She also said there was a need to focus on the “challenges and opportunities facing Scotland to build an economy that is fair, sustainable and competitive in the long-term”.

CBI Scotland director Tracy Black (CBI/PA)
CBI Scotland director Tracy Black (CBI/PA)

In a letter to the First Minister, Ms Black made a number of specific policy recommendations that she said could be used to turn “lofty ambition” for Scotland into “economic reality”.

But she added: “Without immediate steps to boost growth and competitiveness, Scotland risks squandering the platform given to us by the vaccine and in turn choking off economic recovery at source.”

CBI Scotland highlighted the “stark reality” many businesses were facing of labour shortages, saying the manufacturing, logistics and hospitality sectors were “already struggling to recruit the talent needed to fill roles”.

Meanwhile, the organisation warned that nearly 2.5 million workers would need to learn new skills over the next decade, as it called for individual training accounts to be set up for everyone over the age of 25 to help them with this.

CBI Scotland also urged ministers to set the target of equipping all workers with “basic digital skills” by the end of this parliamentary term.

Other proposals included reforms of the planning and business rates system to support more investment in low-carbon infrastructure, while the business organisation was also demanding a rapid expansion of the charging network for electric vehicles.

Ms Black said such suggestions were “just a few of the areas where government and business can turn shared ambition into action as we recover from Covid and transition to a net zero economy”.

Finance and Economy Secretary Kate Forbes said: “Maximising Scotland’s economic potential must be a national endeavour and so we welcome these recommendations from CBI Scotland.

“We want to work with others to build an economy for everyone by delivering greater, greener and fairer prosperity.

“Our forthcoming Programme for Government will help create the best conditions for employers and employees by supporting economic growth and creating secure and satisfying jobs which pay a fair wage.”