National Economic Forum: Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy Kate Forbes speech - 16 June 2021

Closing remarks by Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy Kate Forbes, delivered virtually at the National Economic Forum on 16 June 2021.

We’ve seen how important it is already today but ultimately it’s partnership working that is of essential and critical importance to our collective future. We have got to be able to work together to shape and drive our recovery after all and I’ve been at pains to say over the course of the last few weeks that our recovery has got to be a national endeavour. I think that came through loud and clear in some of the comments that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister made around economic recovery.

And we know that it’s through the actions of businesses, of business owners, of workers, of the business representative organisations that we have been able to come through this crisis and it has been a crisis. It will be through similar levels of work together that we will see our economy recover.

Our economy, our society, has been shaken to their very core with this pandemic and whilst our collective efforts in tandem with the success of the vaccination programme has been instrumental in suppressing the virus, our fight to overcome it continues.

This has been a shared fight – it’s affected everybody emotionally, personally, as well as economically and financially. The essential restrictions have saved lives but they have been costly as well and I would like to reiterate the First Minister’s thanks to each one of you. We owe a great debt of gratitude to everybody who has put the needs of the country ahead of their own financial or business interests and I think all of us on the panel and all of us in government would like to thank you all.

We touched on briefly in one of the answers the point that some businesses, many businesses, are still focused on survival either because they’ve not been able to open yet, or they’ve not been able to open fully yet, or they haven’t seen the return of customers and consumers to the same level as before the pandemic and we are still interested in how to continue to support businesses through that, building on the £3.6 billion worth of support, which as I said, is more than a third of total COVID funding.

But having said all of that, I think our minds are increasingly turning to recovery. We’re able to now lift our eyes, as it were, to the horizon, beyond the here and now and the immediate challenges.

I hope, like each one of you I’m sure, that one day, restrictions will be a thing of the past and that with those freedoms we will get the opportunity to restore and rebuild our economy.

Our mission as a government and my mission as the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy is to create the best conditions for businesses to seize the opportunities to produce, to invent, to scale up, to do the things that they do best.

And in so doing, create secure and satisfying jobs, which pay a fair wage. That is the foundation of our society and getting that right through more social enterprise and socially driven businesses will combat poverty, will lead to better health and social outcomes and it will generate the public revenue that we need to invest in the best public services.

And so, as we’ve said repeatedly over the course of this morning, it really matters what kind of economy we are trying to rebuild. It really matters what kind of economy we are trying to recover.

We need businesses to be at the centre of that recovery but we need businesses that are driving the kind of entrepreneurship, the kind of innovation and the kind of investment that will deliver the step change and the transformation that we need.

The theme today is Economic Transformation. Transformation is never easy, incremental change is a lot easier and even that is not plain sailing. But when it comes to transformation, we need to achieve that kind of change with the step change that I’ve touched on.  

Putting wellbeing at the heart of everything we do, the wellbeing of the economy, the wellbeing of the environment and the wellbeing of people is not just morally the right thing to do but it also unlocks the creativity and the confidence that we need, which in turn will help businesses to innovate, to grow and to make them more globally competitive.

One of the main priorities that I have at the top of my to do list is to deliver the new 10 year National Strategy for Economic Transformation that the First Minister spoke about earlier.

That will set out the vision that we are trying to reach but more importantly it will set out the detail and the actions required of all of us to deliver that change, that transformation, and I’m certainly very keen to hear from businesses regarding those opportunities.

And I want to turn to some of these opportunities now. We know that the transition to Net Zero is one of Scotland’s greatest economic opportunities, pursuing a green recovery will accelerate that transition to make sure that we’re investing in a sustainable future.

COP26 hosted in Glasgow this November is a once in a generation opportunity to put the transition to Net Zero at the heart of all that we do and already some international businesses are approaching the Scottish Government wanting to be a part of that.

I want to make sure that Scottish businesses are at the heart of that so that we can showcase what we are already doing in Scotland. We know that it’s essential that the transition, which we have to make, is just. Meaning that as we reduce our emissions, as we respond to a changing climate, the journey is fair and it creates better opportunities for everybody, regardless of where they live, what they do and who they are.    

For sectors like oil and gas we need to work with you to ensure that each of your businesses, and each of your employees, are part of that transition.  

There is a great talent and pipeline of skills in sectors like oil and gas, which we need to maintain, protect and ensure are part of the solution. But there are other businesses and we need to help to ensure that you can develop new products and new services to capture the economic value from our low carbon investments. Investments and innovation that are pioneered in Scotland and then exported to the world. 

And we have been leading on a significant piece of work in partnership with businesses to support that internationalisation of our business space. That is one of the most effective tools that we have.

And so, in a nutshell, when it comes to the Just Transition – Just Transition is about seeing the opportunities on the horizon when it comes to the low carbon economy, ensuring that we don’t leave anybody behind.

And then finally, pioneering the solutions here in Scotland, that we can then export.

And that takes me on to the second opportunity, which is around jobs and skills, because as the First Minister highlighted earlier, we know that for a successful recovery we need to make sure that everybody can play their part. 

And that's why we're focused heavily on employability and skills because we hear from businesses that that is one of the most urgent and biggest needs –  making sure that our workforce is trained and ready to take on the jobs of the future.

This year we'll invest more than a billion pounds to drive forward our National Mission for Jobs.

To equip our workforce with the future skills they need, with an additional £500 million over this parliament to support new jobs and reskill people.

And with a my finance hat on, I'm always keen to ensure that every penny that we spend is delivering outcomes, is delivering results, and is meeting the primary asks of our business community.

Quite clearly, nobody has been left untouched by this pandemic, but we know that younger people have paid quite a heavy price for the restrictions and the challenges of the last 15 months. We do not want to allow this to affect their life chances going forward. And we've been working with employers, another good example of partnership working, to develop the Young Person's Guarantee.  

That Young Persons Guarantee will ensure that every young person has access to training, to jobs, or to education and to ensure that there is a generation coming through the ranks with the skills that businesses need for the jobs of tomorrow. 

Running alongside that, we're also investing £27 million in our employment support service Fair Start Scotland, providing personalised support for long term unemployed people, particularly those with disabilities, and health conditions, or other barriers to moving into fair and sustained work.  

If it is true that businesses are facing skills shortages, particularly acute in certain sectors, then it's important that all of the potential of our workforce is being realised. Whether that's young people, or people out of work for long periods of time, or people who's jobs have changed and need support to transition to new work.

Getting people into work is essential, but it's not in and of itself, the end of the matter, because the guiding principles of Fair Work, as we've discussed earlier, will need to be central to these jobs, because it is central to our economic recovery.

It's got to be a hallmark of our wellbeing economy, and so we will work with employers, building on that partnership approach that we've seen with these schemes. We will work with employers to ensure that those who are facing barriers to the labour market, whether that's because they face challenges, structural challenges, or because they need help with transitioning to new forms of work -  we want to ensure that they can contribute to our recovery.

The third opportunity that I wanted to touch on is our local economies and it was a good question, as we closed there about the importance of local businesses, because whilst we often talk on the national level, about the challenges and the opportunities facing our economy, we know that so much of the national economy is made up of activity that takes place locally. 

And I want to see more of our public investment impacting on local businesses and on local enterprise, delivering wider economic benefit, and community. 

Well, I started off by saying that when businesses thrive, health, and social outcomes are improved and we can combat poverty. Nowhere is that more acutely seen than when it comes to local economies where it's small decisions that can have huge impacts.

Where a few thriving businesses can make all the difference when it comes to local regeneration. And so, as well as investing in businesses to support them to thrive, we also want to work in partnership with businesses to improve the communities that we live in, because that will pay dividends.  

We want to work for example with our tourism sector, because we know that some local economies are more exposed to the challenges in tourism than others, and tourism creates significant numbers of jobs and economic benefit. 

I touched on earlier, in one of my answers, the recovery work at the heart of the tourism industry's plans and that recovery work is being guided by the national tourism strategy, with the aim of getting the sector back on track to being a 21st century leader in sustainable tourism. 

We've also established the place based investment program that's backed up with an initial £325 million of capital over the next five years to link and align all of the various funding initiatives within certain locations to ensure that there is a coherent and a streamlined approach to investing in communities and building more resilient communities.  

The other area where we see that place based focus, and that effort to support local economies, is of course in our City, Region and Growth Deals, and our commitment of more than £1.9 billion will help support new infrastructure that will assist business growth and the creation of new jobs. 

The deals program has enabled us to develop a new network of regional economic partnerships across Scotland. Those partnerships are local authority led, but they rely on the practical collaboration with businesses, and without that collaboration, indeed, without any of the partnerships that I've talked about this morning, we will be unable to realise our full potential. 

So, over the next 100 days, and then beyond, we want to use every lever at our disposal to shape the recovery that works for all of Scotland's communities. That has to be born of collaboration with business, and it needs to focus on the big opportunities that lie ahead. The big opportunities in our local economies, the big opportunities when it comes to Just Transition, and the big opportunities when it comes to reskilling and protecting jobs.  

And as our recovery gathers pace, as we continue to exit lockdown conditions as businesses can increasingly trade at full pelt, we want to work with you, so that we don't miss out on opportunities. Harnessing all of our crucial talents and strengths is going to be crucial. 

If I'm starting to sound like a broken record this morning it's because I want to get across that message - which is that we need to work in partnership. The same partnership that has taken us through the pandemic, will be the partnership that takes us through recovery. 

We want you to work with us in leading that economic recovery. If our vision is going to be true and sustainable economic transformation, it has to be a national endeavour. 

So, wherever you work, whoever you represent, and in whatever capacity, if you think that you can work with us to rebuild, to restore, and to deliver transformation, then there's an open offer from government to do that.

We need to unashamedly use the experiences, the expertise and the ingenuity of government, business, trade unions and Scotland's workforce to deliver that greater, greener and fairer prosperity.

So with that in mind, I'd urge you all to share your views and ideas in the discussion breakout groups. We want to see solutions. We want to understand the potential. We want to harness the collective talent that we have in this virtual room, and I certainly look forward to taking part in one of the breakout groups and hearing directly from you.  

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