From the start of the recession, the SNP Scottish Government has taken forward an economic recovery plan to ensure that every area of Government activity supports our commitments to deliver economic recovery and long-term sustainable growth.
The downturn has made our action on sustainable economic growth even more critical. As confidence returns there remain challenges, including tackling unemployment and its damaging effects. We have learned lessons from previous recessions, where rising long-term unemployment created lasting damage to Scotland’s communities that crossed generations and we are determined that this time no community will be left behind.
We have reduced the tax burden on businesses and households. The small business bonus removes tens of thousands of small businesses from the burden of business rates. The expansion of the scheme this year has saved the average small business owner £1,400. A survey by the Federation of Small Business suggested this had helped 14 per cent of their members survive the downturn, protecting valuable jobs in local communities. In the year ahead, we are giving Scottish business a further £220m competitive boost, by ensuring total rates bills for business are well below levels elsewhere in the UK. This will support Scottish companies as we emerge from recession and allow them to compete more effectively and create new jobs.
Households are being helped with the extension of the council tax freeze for a second year and with the resources available to freeze council tax again in the year to come. This will save Scottish households £420m over the three years.
We have accelerated improvements to the planning process to help the right developments go forward more quickly. This includes the launch of a new online planning system, ePlanning, which will make Scotland’s planning system simpler, faster and more accessible. In the second half of 2009, more than 80 per cent of written planning appeals were dealt with within 12 weeks, compared with 27 per cent in 2008-09 and only six per cent in 2007-08. This is a big improvement that will make Scotland a more attractive place for investment and business.
And we are directly investing in communities through a £60m town centre regeneration fund which will help local agencies to regenerate and grow their town centres. Communities will also be helped through accelerated spending from the European structural funds, the Scottish Rural Development Programme and the European Fisheries Fund.
The second part of our economic recovery plan is to strengthen Scotland’s education and skills.
A central element is ScotAction, our skills support package, designed to support businesses and individuals. Key parts of the package are our Adopt an Apprentice scheme, which allows apprentices made redundant elsewhere to finish their work and studies, and our Safeguard an Apprentice scheme offering wage support for businesses if they keep an apprentice employed. We have provided an extra £16m to support an additional 7,800 apprentices this year.
We are also increasing support for people facing redundancy with the strengthening of the Partnership Action for Continuing Employment initiative to help those businesses and individuals faced with losing their jobs. PACE has allowed many people facing redundancy find new jobs or training.
We are investing in innovation and the industries of the future. We are increasing incentives for business to use and pursue innovation, with Scottish Enterprise’s research and development grant programme attracting over £100m of private sector investment into research projects. The £10m Saltire Prize has been launched to provide the largest innovation prize for marine renewables, putting Scotland at the forefront of this emerging and potentially planet-saving technology.
Research and innovation are crucial to the emerging industries of the future. These are the industries which will be the major employers of the future. We are determined to support companies with the potential for growth. By establishing a Scottish Investment Bank, with initial funds of £150m, we can support innovative high-growth potential businesses.
The SNP Scottish Government has done all it can to protect the Scottish economy from recession but macroeconomic powers remain reserved to Westminster, so Scotland is beholden to the cuts agenda of the London parties. Labour are promising cuts “tougher and deeper” than Thatcher while the Tories have secret cuts planned which take no account of the massive contribution North Sea oil makes to Treasury coffers.
This slash and burn approach to investment in Scotland is massively irresponsible on the part of the London parties. Withdrawing fiscal stimulus is the wrong thing to do as the economy begins to turn the corner of recovery risking as it does a double dip recession. In the next Parliament, SNP MPs will stand against these cuts and champion the Scottish recovery.
In the long term, we will continue to work for independence – only with the fiscal autonomy of a normal, independent country will the Scottish economy truly flourish.
Stewart Hosie is the Teasury spokesman for the Scottish National Party