Business barriers don’t add up to a growth agenda - Liz McAreavey

Just when you think spring is ready to blossom and we are about to come out of the gloom of winter, a cold snap brings us back to hunkering down with a blanket.

Liz McAreavey, CEO at Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce
Liz McAreavey, CEO at Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce
Liz McAreavey, CEO at Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce

Similarly, as we start to see inflation ease back under control, strikes cancelled as pay deals are now seriously being discussed and slightly more optimism shining through, we then start to feel the cumulative impact of a raft of policies from government that seem to be wholly disconnected.

Politicians at all levels will cite the need to “grow the economy” as a top priority but will then happily pass a variety of pieces of legislation that individually and collectively add to the difficulties businesses already face.

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As examples - an alcohol advertising ban is going through consultation; the deposit return scheme comes into effect in August, workplace parking levy and low emission zone charges will become active in Edinburgh in the next two years; a transient visitor levy continues to be on the cards; and this autumn sees the deadline for private sector landlords to apply for short-term let licences before tough new legislation comes into force.

Each piece of legislation is well intentioned and each aims to deliver positive outcomes for society and the planet, but as well as having their own consequences, there is also growing concern at the cumulative impact. Individually or collectively, they make it harder for businesses to thrive and grow and therefore our economy doesn’t prosper. The consequences of which mean, we can’t afford to pay for improvements to our NHS, our schools, our social care services, and we can’t begin to tackle key policies like closing the attainment gap between rich and poor, or tackling the health gap between the haves and have-nots.

The three contenders running to lead our government in Scotland all claim to be determined to focus on growing the economy for a resilient, fairer economic future. But long-term aspirations require short-term support, and campaigning is one thing, but what businesses need an incoming First Minister to do most is … pause.

To boost our economic recovery, we need right now to pause measures which increase the burden of taxation and regulation on enterprise. Yes we need to transition to Net Zero and we all have our part to play, but let’s get there in good shape, with a strong economy that can invest properly in productivity, skills and sustainability.

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After two years of unprecedented challenges coming thick and fast, we now have policies and additional cost coming equally thick and fast, that only to add to the burden of dealing with the current cost of doing business. With many businesses still in the process of recovery, growth for many businesses, SMEs in particular, will be yet another mountain to climb.

We need a reset of the relationship between business and Government, at local, Scottish and UK level. We do engage regularly, of course we do, but the consultations have to be more meaningful and start much earlier in the policy development process. Collaboration between government and business needs to be genuine and more productive if we are to achieve our amazing potential and succeed in the new Green Economy.

Liz McAreavey, CEO at Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce