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Government's strategy must look beyond narrow pursuit of economic growth, charities claim

This news post is about 1 year old

Questions have been asked about the "missed opportunities" as the government outlined its economic vision.

Charities have said Scotland’s new strategy for economic growth offers some missed opportunities from the government as ministers underlined their “vision for Scotland”. 

On Tuesday Economy Secretary Kate Forbes unveiled a new National Strategy for Economic Transformation, promising a “step-change” in how government and business can work together to make the economy more prosperous. 

Ms Forbes said the strategy will offer renewed clarity on Scotland’s economic vision and aims to deliver economic growth that is significantly greater than that seen in the previous decade.  

The plans sets out how the government, public bodies and economic agencies, the education system, trade unions, the third sector and critically, industry and businesses can use the current economic powers of the Scottish Government to deliver economic transformation that will benefit the length and breadth of the country.

Scottish charities welcomed the focus on building a wellbeing economy, but said the importance of care to Scotland’s economy and society is missing. 

Jamie Livingstone, head of Oxfam Scotland, said: “This Strategy rightly states that ‘only actions deliver change’, so it cannot result in business as usual. It must instead deliver the promised transformation to a fairer economy while also accelerating the transition to a sustainable society.

“Critically, that must include better rewarding those whose work is under-valued within our existing economic model, including the disproportionate number of women – particularly those from black and minority ethnic groups – whose unpaid care is currently ignored.

“While the commitment to create a new ‘Wellbeing Economy Monitor’ to move beyond traditional measures like GDP is positive, we must do more to recognise that care – both paid and unpaid – is vital to Scotland’s economy and the society it serves. The failure of this Strategy to adequately recognise the central importance of care is worrying.

“The Scottish Government must consistently look beyond a narrow pursuit of economic growth to focus on what grows, and who benefits from it, while using every lever it has – including tax and procurement – to ensure the economy works for people and the planet.

“The Strategy rightly acknowledges that ‘tackling poverty will substantially increase Scotland’s economic performance’ but to achieve that, we must do much more to tackle the extreme economic inequality that holds Scotland back while leaving one in five people in poverty.

“As we tentatively emerge from Covid-19, the Scottish Government’s pledge to ensure that work provide a ‘genuine route out of poverty’ must be realised, including requiring businesses to do more to improve job quality.

“While the Strategy rightly notes that a wellbeing economy can’t be achieved by simply redistributing wealth, there is little mention of the role tax must play to share the income and wealth our economy creates.

“Critically, we must ensure economic performance no longer comes at the expense of our planet. Achieving a just transition to Net Zero is a welcome focus in this Strategy, but Scotland has missed the last three legal emissions targets in a row and we must invest in known solutions so that we drive down emissions more quickly.

“Ultimately, what kind of Scotland do we want in 10 years: one in which economic inequality and environmental damage are even more widespread or an inclusive society which delivers wellbeing for everyone while protecting our planet?”

Economy Secretary Kate Forbes said: “The National Strategy for Economic Transformation offers renewed clarity of our vision for Scotland, with a ruthless focus on delivery.

“We’ve consulted with business, academia, trade unions and more to develop this strategy and it will be a collective national endeavour over the next decade to shift the dial on our economy into becoming fairer, wealthier, and greener.

“We’re still feeling the impacts of Brexit and we know that international investment will be key to mitigating these effects and growing our economy.

“Only a few months ago investors came to Glasgow and signalled that significant amounts of investment are available for the transition required by our transport, energy, and economic sectors.

“This strategy marks a step change in how we approach the economy and it will help us to deliver the best economic performance possible for Scotland within the current constitutional constraints. We want Scotland to be a more resilient and more entrepreneurial economy – in which everybody can share in our success. 

“As we look beyond the pandemic we must be ready to seize the economic opportunities that come with achieving net-zero and becoming a fairer country.”

Other groups also underlined the fundamental importance of our natural environment and a nature-positive economy. 

Chief executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Jo Pike, said: “Society is facing an unprecedented nature and climate emergency. To ensure that the nation’s economic strategy helps to tackle these challenges it is vital that people with the right range of skills and interests help shape its delivery. 

“In particular, it will be important that expertise in the natural environment and biodiversity are included in the Scottish Government’s new Economic Leadership Group.

“As we move into the delivery phase of the strategy, the Scottish Government will need to work in partnership, drawing on the vast knowledge of biodiversity within the third sector, and ensuring communities are meaningfully engaged in shaping long-term, sustainable outcomes for Scotland.”

The plans were criticised by the trade union movement in Scotland, who said the plans offered little more than a continuation of the status quo. 

Roz Foyer, general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) and a member of the advisory group said: “The National Strategy for Economic Transformation has a sprinkling of good ideas and we have successfully argued for some strong lines on the importance of Fair Work, decent pay and the role of trade unions, but overall, it is a missed opportunity to address the challenges before us and make real, transformational change.

"The main engine of the Scottish economy is the foundational economy. Unsurprisingly it is also the biggest employer. It encompasses transport, retail, energy generation, distribution and importantly education and public services. 

“So, at the heart of the NSET should have been a strategy to increase pay and improve terms and conditions in these sectors. Investing in public services offers a huge opportunity to support sustainable growth while tackling poverty and inequality.

"Over the coming years we face enormous challenges, none greater than the journey to net zero, a journey that must be carefully planned to ensure we create good, secure jobs that do not leave communities abandoned. 

“Whilst the NSET talks about the potential for future development in the renewables and low carbon economy it fails to acknowledge previous failures or, more importantly, how we can learn from them and build a new industrial strategy.

"Scotland is not immune from global economic shocks, or the UK Government’s self-inflicted economic damage. Financialised capitalism embeds structural inequalities as evidenced by the escalating cost-of-living crisis. 

“Addressing these structural inequalities is fundamental and it will certainly not be solved by prioritising becoming a ‘magnet for global private capital’ nor through the appointment of a Chief Entrepreneurship Officer. Genuinely building new business start-ups is a good idea, flooding the economy with new start-ups, too many of which then fail, is not.

"The public sector has an enormous role to play in our economic transformation yet it is barely mentioned in the Scottish Government’s strategy. Neither is there any mention of tax – which is crucial to tackling inequality and raising revenue. Paying lip-service to community wealth building and the desire for a well-being economy will not deliver the change needed. 

‘If we are serious about economic transformation the Scottish Government must develop a green industrial strategy and invest in our public sector and the local authorities that make our vital services a reality.

“We will continue to engage with Scottish Government both on taking forward the more positive elements and aspirations of this strategy and to ensure the foundational economy is not left behind in Scotland’s economic future.”



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