When this Government was first elected in 2007, we made clear in our Economic Strategy that we would make Scotland a more successful country with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish through increasing sustainable economic growth. This was the Purpose to which all our efforts and actions would be directed. This remains our top priority.
Faster sustainable economic growth is the key to unlocking Scotland's potential and strengthening our greatest asset - the people of Scotland. It is the avenue through which we can deliver a better, more prosperous and fairer society.
Global economic conditions have changed markedly since 2007, following the deepest global recession in over 50 years. Scotland cannot expect to be immune from such pressures. However, as a result of the actions we took in our Economic Recovery Plan and the resilience of our businesses and workers, we can reflect upon a recession that, while hugely damaging, was shorter and shallower than for the UK as a whole.
As we look forward, we are witnessing signs of recovery in Scotland. Employment levels have increased by 60,000 over the last year and Scotland now has higher employment and lower unemployment than the UK.
Global economic conditions remain challenging however, and the recovery is threatened by the scale and profile of the spending cuts - particularly to Scotland's capital investment budget - being implemented by the UK Government.
It is within this context that our Government Economic Strategy sets out the measures that we will take to accelerate Scotland's recovery and support jobs. We have taken the opportunity to sharpen our focus upon areas where we believe further action may be needed or where there are new and emerging opportunities for our economy.
We believe that Government has a positive role to play in supporting the Scottish economy and the Government Economic Strategy is designed to ensure that the entire public sector is fully aligned in this effort.
In recognition of the value of continuity the Strategy continues to focus our actions on a consistent set of Strategic Priorities. These are: Supportive Business Environment; Learning, Skills and Well-being; Infrastructure Development and Place; Effective Government; and Equity.
In addition, we have established a new Strategic Priority - Transition to a Low Carbon Economy. Scotland has a massive competitive advantage with the natural resources, and academic and engineering expertise to become a world leader in low-carbon activities. We have the opportunity to reindustrialise the nation and create thousands of new jobs across Scotland. With the right incentives and leadership we now know that the low carbon sector could support 130,000 jobs by 2020 and we are determined to deliver on this ambition. In addition this sector, above all others, will provide a focus for new private sector capital investment in Scotland.
Central to the Strategy are our plans to create jobs and support Scotland's young people. Our Opportunities for All initiative will ensure that every 16-19 year old not already in work, education or training is offered a learning or training opportunity while we will also support a record 125,000 Modern Apprenticeships over the next five years.
The Government Economic Strategy also sets out our approach to establishing the foundations for long-term economic prosperity with a focus on Growth Companies, Growth Markets, and Growth Sectors.
We recognise that capital investment is key to economic recovery and we are prioritising our capital spend to maximise the impact on jobs and the economy. Securing affordable finance remains a considerable challenge and we are seeking to address constraints in access to finance, particularly for our small and medium-sized businesses. We are also helping to ease uncertainty, protect employment and promote economic security through our pay restraint and tax policies. This includes retaining the Small Business Bonus Scheme - which has already helped tens of thousands of small businesses - and freezing Council Tax Bills to help households in difficult economic times.
The Government Economic Strategy makes full use of our existing levers to accelerate the recovery, create jobs and promote growth. Our economic and financial competence has been recognised by households and businesses across Scotland.
But it is also important to reflect upon what more we could do if we had greater access to the levers of economic growth. There is an urgent need for change and the Scottish Parliament must secure real 'economic teeth'.
Independence would give us full access to job creating powers. These powers provide the key to delivering a brighter economic future for the people of Scotland and building a better nation.
The Rt. Hon. Alex Salmond MSP
The First Minister of Scotland