The COVID-19 pandemic has created a challenge on a scale that our economy and people have not seen in our lifetimes.
Yet, acting as one, we have pushed this virus back. It has required sacrifices from everyone to save lives. Many businesses have had to close, or witness demand for their products or services collapse overnight. Money coming
in one day, and gone the next.
We are, however, now seeing the result of that hard work and sacrifice, of a concerted public health effort. The number of cases and deaths from the virus are at very low levels compared to the spike earlier in the year. As a result, we
can begin to open more and more businesses, all learning
to operate in new and uncharted ways.
This allows us to think about how we drive our economic recovery and the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery report published just a few weeks ago was a vital contribution to that. This response welcomes that report and its recommendations, and I want to sincerely thank the members of the Advisory Group for their swift and detailed work on this.
I want to highlight one of its key findings. That, if we are to be successful in as speedy a recovery as possible, there is no single action, person or organisation that will achieve it alone.
This needs to be a jobs-focused recovery. I have engaged extensively with businesses over the past few months, and have discussed ideas and views on economic recovery with many organisations and individuals. This approach underlines our willingness to listen and collaborate with businesses, social enterprise, trade unions and other organisations to protect and create jobs in our economy. We know that their innovation and determination will be the engine room of our economic recovery. I’m asking businesses to work with us to support our people, to create good quality jobs, and rise to this challenge. And I expect them to challenge us too.
This response has also been informed by discussion of the Report with the Social Renewal Advisory Board, which has been set up to advise government on social renewal post-COVID. There are many areas of interest that have a strong cross-cutting focus on the economy. We will continue to work with them, to ensure our ambitions are aligned to create maximum impact on the type of socially just and equality-focused economic recovery that we want.
We also face the full impact of BREXIT at the end of this year, which could tempt some towards a race to the bottom. However, the Advisory Group’s Report is clear in its support for the principles of fair work, the importance of decarbonising our economy and the imperative of reducing inequality. That approach described in the Report builds on our ambition of a fair, inclusive and wellbeing economy that Scotland is setting its path towards.
Some would argue that there is an inherent contradiction in being pro-business and supporting fair work and reducing inequality. I strongly reject that. As the Advisory Group report makes clear, the underlying resilience of our economy relies on fair work and quality jobs for all, to create a society that is more equal.
However, it goes beyond that. Tackling inequalities, including gender economic inequality, and providing fair work unlocks people’s creativity, confidence and wellbeing. The business case is strong for an inclusive economy. It helps our businesses to innovate and grow, it helps them to compete more effectively on the world stage. It helps develop, attract, and make, the most of our talent in Scotland.
Delivering this type of ambition relies on investing in the quality of our housing and our infrastructure, our public health, and the support that is available to those who need it. Thinking of these as social policies disconnected from economic policy and job creation and growth is simply to constrain the potential of our people.
There is also no choice but to focus on decarbonising and greening our economy. The global climate crisis poses an imminent threat to our quality of life and wellbeing. We have a moral imperative to act, but if we rise to this challenge now, we will support jobs through innovations that we can export to the rest of the world, and bolster the natural assets that underpin our economy. Our recovery will be an environmentally sustainable and green recovery. Everything we’re doing, whether it be on skills, business support, investment, is focused on sustainability and ensuring a just transition to net zero by 2045.
The global challenges of COVID-19 and climate change also put a spotlight on the critical nature and role of our local economies. It requires us to think about how we can change the way that we work and travel, to reduce the impact on our environment but potentially, also to create an economic and social renewal in all of our communities. It can be a means to address significant challenges around de-population of parts of Scotland.
Unlocking the power of digital innovation means that economic activity can happen anywhere that is connected. It can also reduce the need to travel – opening up new opportunities for economies to flourish in our rural and island communities and reducing the inequity caused by the costs and time of travel.
In this response to the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery, therefore, we set out what we can accelerate at pace now, and what further actions we can take forward in the forthcoming Programme for Government, as well as the refresh of the Climate Change Plan update.
We won’t have all the answers but I look forward to working with our employers, our public sector and our people to rise to the challenge in front of us.