‘Innovation nation’ to usher in decade of delivery - Liz McAreavey

Former prime minister Gordon Brown emphasised the need for increased cooperation between the Scottish and UK governmentsFormer prime minister Gordon Brown emphasised the need for increased cooperation between the Scottish and UK governments
Former prime minister Gordon Brown emphasised the need for increased cooperation between the Scottish and UK governments
Recently, I had the privilege of welcoming delegates to a compelling conference in Edinburgh exploring sustainable economic growth opportunities for Scotland. The event was marked by a refreshing appeal from former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, inset, for politicians to unite and usher in “a decade of delivery”.

Mr Brown, who has served in the UK’s two highest political positions – Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer – introduced himself to attendees from diverse business and political backgrounds as “a recovering politician”. He clarified that he was not asking Nationalists to put aside their beliefs, or Unionists to denounce theirs. Rather he asked that, at a point when Scotland desperately needs to see strong economic recovery and performance, they focus on the need to work together to rebuild. The reward he proposed was enticing – the generation of 300,000 jobs in new industries in Scotland over the next decade, which would lift 100,000 people out of poverty.

The Edinburgh Chamber supported the “Better Jobs, Better Skills, Better Pay” conference at the EICC in collaboration with the Our Scottish Future think-tank, founded by Mr Brown. He emphasised the need for increased cooperation between the Scottish and UK governments and their numerous agencies. He pointed out that eliminating duplication and resulting confusion could lead to more effective use of public funding.

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A report released by the think-tank to coincide with the conference is based on modelling that explores potential growth rates for Scotland in the coming decade. It argues that achieving a growth rate of 2.5 per cent is ambitious but feasible if both governments commit to a decade-long collaboration to boost growth in five high-growth sectors: green manufacturing and energy, digital tech, professional business services, life sciences, and premium food and drink.

Lord Sainsbury, who served alongside Mr Brown as Minister for Science and Innovation, was another keynote speaker. He informed the delegates that the UK and Scotland would not achieve annual growth targets of 2.5 per cent unless they enhanced their capacity to develop innovative and competitive global products and services. This is crucial in an increasingly competitive world economy, a concept he referred to as “an innovation nation”.

Listening to these two influential figures advocate for a clearer modern industrial strategy for Scotland was encouraging. The Edinburgh Chamber has been echoing this call for some time, and we are eager to play a significant and active role in the development of such a strategy. We are not seeking ready-made solutions; we want to contribute.

Businesses possess ambition, ideas, drive, and commitment. Given the right economic conditions and policies, they should be able to scale, innovate, and contribute to Scotland’s economic success. While we have no shortage of start-ups and creativity, we seem to lack high-growth, scalable businesses that can significantly boost Scotland’s productivity. There has been a 9 per cent decline in high-growth businesses in Scotland’s key sectors, including renewable energy, over the past three years. We need to explore ways to reverse this trend.

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To truly recover and grow, we need to redefine the relationship between business and government. This begins with improved consultation. Soliciting views on policies that have already been drafted and essentially agreed upon is ineffective. Businesses need to be involved much earlier in the policy-making process and have a meaningful impact.

The Scottish Government is focused on the Wellbeing Economy, an aspiration we support. To achieve this, we need a focused and clear modern industrial strategy that recognises the immense potential of our key high-growth sectors, understands the barriers to growth and success, and identifies the catalysts and interventions needed to unlock maximum performance.

Addressing the existing skills gap is crucial, as is enhancing our physical and digital infrastructure. Improving housing and attracting inward investment are also key elements that need to be put in place. It’s important to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, no magic money tree, and the solution does not lie in taxing talent or encouraging a brain drain.

What we need is business growth that creates jobs, inward and capital investment that also generates employment, and digital skills that lead to higher-skilled and better-paid jobs. This will contribute to reducing poverty and providing purpose.

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As the former Prime Minister reminded us, it’s essential for our elected leaders to collaborate more effectively to enhance the life prospects of those they represent. This is not just about economic recovery, but about building a future where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

Liz McAreavey is Chief Executive, Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce