Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI) Forum 2023: First Minister's speech - 5 June 2023

Speech given by First Minister Humza Yousaf at the Royal Bank of Scotland Gogarburn Campus on Monday 5 June 2023. 

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SCDI plays a unique role in Scottish public life – for more than 90 years now, you have brought together businesses with members of the wider public, the third sector, trade unions and many others. You are still making a very positive difference today, without a doubt – for example your Business Purpose Commission is contributing to that debate on the wellbeing economy, central to the work and efforts of the government I lead.

The sessions you’re holding at this forum - on innovation, entrepreneurship and the green economy – demonstrate once again how central you are to the most important topics not just for Scotland, but for the globe to be engaging with. I know that the Cabinet Secretary for the Wellbeing Economy, Neil Gray, is looking forward to speaking at tomorrow’s session on “innovating the future”.

And innovation will be part of the theme of my remarks today. I’m going to highlight the importance of supporting innovation together of course with entrepreneurship.

But I wanted to perhaps put those topics in a slightly broader context if I may.

After I became First Minister, I quickly tried to set out, I hope successfully, the Policy Prospectus, the defining missions of the Government that I lead. Those three key missions on which I hope to be judged.

The first of them is to substantially reduce poverty, and in particular child poverty.

The second is improving those public services, particularly the NHS, but also a number of other public services, on the road to recovery, post the worst effects of the pandemic.

And the third is to make Scotland more prosperous - by growing our economy, for a purpose. Much like you have been discussing for many years here at SCDI.

I’ve never found in my life there to be a conflict between growing the economy for a purpose, expanding that tax base, that revenue base, so that we can invest in our anti-poverty measures. So that we can invest in that acceleration of the green economy, for example.

And I want to make sure, I’ll come back to this theme through my my contribution today but also importantly in our discussion, about unlocking the huge potential that we have here in Scotland for the green economy.

All three of those missions are undoubtedly interlinked. It’s good for business when we have good quality public services, for example, when customers and workers can afford a decent standard of living, and that undoubtedly helps us all.

We all win as a result of that. But of course we need thriving businesses to create jobs and to create wealth too.  

So making Scotland more prosperous – and moving towards a true wellbeing economy - is a defining mission for the Government I lead. 

It’s also something that is very important to me on a personal level.

I’ve spoken before - I am the son of a small business owner. A couple of months ago, my dad’s business turned 40 years old. Despite all of our efforts, Mr Yousaf Snr still won’t retire! He loves what he does.

Just as an aside, he told me a couple months ago, when we were holding a celebration for his business, about the joy and satisfaction he gets as an accountant, balancing a balance sheet today, is the same joy he got 40 years ago. You can tell you can tell me whether that makes him incredibly enthusiastic or sad!

Either way he is an entrepreneur in his own right, he's created hundreds of jobs actually. Throughout those 40 years has given that opportunity. And of course through the taxes that he has paid, has helped the governments of the time invest in those public services we all rely on.

Entrepreneurship runs in my blood. My grandfather, the reason I’m in this country. It's because Mohammed Yousaf came to this country 60 years ago.

When he did, he did what many migrants do. Particularly those at the time from the Subcontinent. He worked in the Singer Sewing machine factory in Clydebank. He saved up some money, sent a fair bit back home to Pakistan. But with what he saved, as soon as he was able to buy his first shop, and start his own business, he did that. And of course built from one shop, two shops, a few more and then of course through his professional life created hundreds of jobs.

He worked tirelessly, all hours of the day, staying open on Christmas Day, New Years Day, when others were closed.

Because of that, he gave me and his own children the opportunities that he never had growing up in Pakistan.

The reason I mention my grandfather in particular, it’s not just a nice anecdote, is because first and foremost it’s important for me to say, and the Government to say, that migration has been good for this country. Not just good for Scotland, but good for the UK.

So throughout my life, I've witnessed that contribution migrants have continued to make, but also benefited from the opportunities that business provide not just for the owners and their employees, but for families and communities right across across the country, as well.

Because of that, I’ve been determined to establish and re-establish strong links with business since I became First Minister. One of my earliest steps was to rethink some of our policies, in relation to alcohol advertising and of course the Deposit Return Scheme, very topical at the moment. Listen to those business concerns, make tweaks where necessary. That’s in the immediate term.

I’m very keen that we strike a new deal with business. That there is a trusting relationship between business, industry and the Government. That doesn’t mean we’re going to agree at all times. A lot of times, we won’t. And that’s fine.

But what I’ve heard from business time and time again - and I’ve got to reflect on this, as I’ve been a member of the Government in various different guises over the years - is that they feel that they’re not quite being listened to, particularly when it comes to the policy inception stage.

So we want to make sure that we are truly co-designing policy with you as business people, and I’m really excited about the New Deal for Scottish Business. I’ve asked for some interim feedback this month. So we’re working extremely hard with members of the forum. I understand the co-chair Dr Poonam Malik, will be speaking to the forum over the coming days.

We’ll continue to support businesses as best we can, not just through the New Deal, but through maintaining some of the current initiatives that we already have, the Small Business Owners scheme for example.  

We’re promoting Scotland in the international markets and I think that’s absolutely something we can do more of. Particularly in the Indo-Pacific region, where I think we’ve probably not capitalised as much as we can, as well as of course ensuring growth in more well established markets such as Europe and the United States.

And beyond that as well. As we’ve already heard there’s a massive potential for us in our journey to net zero. We have to move to net zero. We need to have that modelling, and I’m sure that everyone in this room agrees it’s the right thing for us to do. To show that global leadership where we possibly can. But we also can’t ignore the massive economic potential for Scotland there is on that journey

One of my very first visits as First Minister was to Aberdeen, to see the expansion of the South Harbour there. While I was there, I saw work going on for offshore wind farms, and I also saw a vessel which was used for decommissioning oil rigs. We have the just transition taking place there in just one harbour. It’s a good example of the employment opportunities we can create from a just transition away from oil and gas, traditional fossil fuels.

And there’s much more we can do on this front, and I’m very keen from a Scottish Government perspective, where those levers are in our hands, to see how we can help investments come here. At the All-Energy conference in Glasgow Keith Anderson made the point, that we may not be able to compete with the US in terms of inflation reduction or the EU in terms of their subsidies. But what we can do is be smart in our gift to attract some of that global capital that is swirling about and wanting to be invested in green economy. Whether there is some planning or bureaucracy, thinking about what can we do to try to be sharper.

Cleaner and leaner around these issues, in order to attract some of that investment.

But the benefits we can gain from a just transition aren’t limited to the renewable energy sector. Later this month, the Scottish Government will publish three discussion papers on a Just Transition for Transport; Land Use and Agriculture; and Built Environment and Construction. Over the summer our intention is to engage with business on all these matters.

And in doing so we know, of course, that our success will depend – to a large extent - on our ability to innovate. I know that’s a key theme of the forum over the next few days. I really do welcome that emphasis.

The last time I was at Gogarburn, a couple of weeks ago, I attended the Scottish EDGE Awards for new and growing companies. The EDGE Awards are the largest business competition anywhere in the UK. I’m really grateful to Sir Tom Hunter and the team for doing an excellent job. In the last 11 years they’ve supported more than 500 businesses. This year’s winners spanned areas as diverse as digital technology, robotics, life sciences, food and drink.

One point which struck me very clearly, and came across with every entrepreneur I spoke to was they were developing new products and services for a purpose – including improving health and wellbeing, or tackling the climate and nature crisis.

That is the opportunity. Scotland should be, and has often been, the place where we have developed innovation solutions to some of the biggest threats the planet is facing.

That’s something which has also been a major preoccupation of SCDI. In recent years, you have focused strongly on the idea of business for a purpose – you’ve highlighted that businesses do better when they are focused on not just helping people but helping the planet as well.

The entrepreneurs I met here two weeks ago exemplified that principle.

The importance of entrepreneurship is something that’s explicitly recognised in the Scottish Government’s National Strategy for Economic Transformation. That’s why, in the last year, we’ve appointed Mark Logan as the Scottish Government’s Chief Entrepreneurship Officer.

Building on the recommendations of Mark’s review of the Scottish technology ecosystem, we’ve provided £60 million to support a new network of tech scalers.

We’ll support innovation above and beyond that. We will shortly publish our response to the excellent report done by Ana Stewart and Mark Logan’s report into Women in Enterprise. Morally it is the right thing to do to ensure that we get more women into entrepreneurship, and we’re supporting that movement into entrepreneurship and business. But it’s frankly also something we need to do. We know all the stats around how tight the labour market is.

So having, encouraging and supporting more women into entrepreneurship and business is a win, win for everybody.

The Scottish Government’s support for entrepreneurship goes hand in hand with innovation. I hope you can understand some of my commitment to that.

Later this week, we will publish our innovation strategy, which sets out our ambition to become one of the most innovative small countries in the world.

That strategy has been shaped by a steering group co-chaired by Sir Jim McDonald, of Strathclyde University, and it has been planned in very close collaboration with business and others. 

I suspect that quite a few of the businesses and organisations in this room will have contributed to its development. I am grateful to all of you for that.

The innovation strategy will outline how we intend to listen and learn, thinking about how we learn from other countries. Many similar sized countries as ours: Norway, Finland, Denmark, who do better in using innovation to secure economic growth.  

It will also provide very targeted support for innovation. We’ll continue to do that through the likes of the Scottish National investment Bank, our enterprise agencies, and indeed the Scottish Funding Council.

In my role as First Minister I have already engaged with universities. We all talk about Scotland’s world class universities, we’re quite right to do so. They’re recognised globally. I was speaking to the IMF this morning and they purposely emphasised that point around Scotland’s world class higher education system.

Universities in Scotland attract 1/5 of research funding that’s available in the UK, but only around 1/10 of the commercial spin-out companies come from Scotland. So what more can we do, there’s more that can be done to make sure we’re commercialising some of those research funding opportunities.

I hope you get a sense from my remarks that the Government is not just wanting to listen, but truly meaningfully engage with business.

As I said in my opening remarks, we’re not going to agree on everything. But we should be working as closely as we possibly can, in partnership and engagement.

But let me try to ensure that the proof is in the pudding. That we don't just talk. The talk is important, in saying the right things, but we hope to walk the walk.

We’ve got a strong legacy to develop on from my predecessor and others in government, but I want to make sure we build upon that. I think this New Deal for Business is going to be critical.

But let me end perhaps where I started. There is no conflict in my mind between the excellent work that you do , with the jobs that you create, the wealth that you create and generate, and the fact of course that you want to do that for a purpose. That purpose is tackling some of the greatest challenges we face as a country, let alone that we face as a globe and as a humanity.

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