I’m delighted to welcome so many people from right across the UK here to Glasgow, to my home city. As we refer to it the centre of the Universe!
And I’m especially pleased to be able to celebrate the incredible achievements of small businesses right across these islands. Let me give my warm congratulations to all of the nominees, in particular of course to all of the fabulous award winners.
Every single winner deserves hearty congratulations for all of the work and the effort that has gone into the achievements being celebrated here today.
At any time, small businesses are absolutely essential to the strength of a country’s economy, and to the health, wellbeing and happiness of its communities and all the people who live there.
That’s true at the best of times but the past two years have of course not been the best of times. They have been unbelievably difficult times, hugely testing for everybody. Over the past two years there’s no doubt the role of small businesses has been even more important than ever.
You adapted really quickly and also importantly conscientiously to COVID safety requirements – so that you could keep your customers safe and of course your workers safe.
Many of you became important resources and sources of support for people in your local communities. For example I vividly remember that some of the shops that were able to stay open during the first national lockdown became regular points of contact, for some people the only point of contact.
All of you changed your working patterns in some ways, and many of you even developed new products.
And you did all of this while you were also dealing with worries about the future of your businesses and – of course frequently - dealing with difficult personal circumstances of your own.
I saw some of that work in my constituency - which is just across the River Clyde from here – and across Scotland. But I know that the successes and the struggles of small businesses here, were mirrored right throughout the UK.
I think that is really evident by looking at the achievements of the 12 award winners, whose efforts we will recognised. They exemplify how much local companies do - not simply to build successful businesses, but to support strong communities.
And so for all of these reasons, actually the most important message I want to get across to you today is simple but it’s heartfelt. And that is thank you.
Thank you for everything you’ve done in the past two years – not simply to keep your businesses going – but to look after the welfare of your staff, of your customers, and your communities.
I also want to say thank you to the Federation of Small Businesses itself. The FSB here in Scotland is a valued partner in all of our work to support the economy. During the pandemic they did an outstanding job of representing small business’s interests- and they did that in a way which was often and rightly challenging for government, because at times we needed to hear really hard messages. But they did that in a way that was very constructive and I want to thank them for that.
The second point I want to make follows on from everything I’ve just said. Small businesses played a hugely important role during the pandemic. In doing that you showed just how central you are to our economy and our society. And so you also need to be central to the governments’ planning, as we look to the future and as we seek to recover from COVID.
At the moment, an essential part of that is helping with the cost of living crisis. Here in Scotland we’re doing as much as we and we’ll continue to do that.
If you look to the future, our National Strategy for Economic Transformation stresses concepts like community wealth building. So that we do more to ensure that wealth and economic opportunities are kept within local areas, so that they support local people and businesses. We recently launched the Scotland Loves Local programme to try to support local businesses, and of course of retail strategy encourages measures to support local businesses, suppliers and producers where possible.
All of that work is important, just today we are also launching a couple of additional programmes which will be relevant in particular to small manufacturers. The first is our Award for Manufacturing Leadership, which invites applicants to show how they have grown through commitments to fair work, sustainability and community links. The second is our Fund for Low Carbon Manufacturing, which is intended to accelerate the adoption and delivery of sustainable manufacturing processes.
92% of Scotland’s manufacturers have fewer than 50 employees. And so we hope and expect that small businesses will be very strong applicants for these new initiatives.
Fundamentally, the key that all of us have to appreciate is our economy will not thrive unless our small businesses thrive. Therefore supporting small businesses – which make up 98% of all the registered businesses in Scotland – is an essential but also powerful way of harnessing the good that businesses do in the economy and in broader society.
I want to end where I started really, by thanking all of you for all you contribute. In so many different and varied ways right across the UK. All of us owe you a huge debt of gratitude for all the dedication, effort, ingenuity, creativity and the resilience – particularly over the past two years – that you have shown.
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