As we look back at 2023, it will be remembered as a year of challenge and uncertainty.
The economy was largely seen in the prism of stagnant growth, squeezed consumer spending and flatlining investment.
Workforce shortages, rising interest rates, supply chain challenges and poorly designed regulation dominated conversations across Scotland’s business community.
Scottish Chambers of Commerce (SCC) continued to act as a vital vocal advocate to make sure every business has a fighting chance to survive and grow.
Relationship reset was ‘crucial first step’ in tackling business concerns
That’s why our call for the Scottish Government to reset the relationship with business was a crucial first step to addressing the concerns of major employers in Scotland. It is well known the relationship has been tested in recent years as competing policy priorities have burdened business with additional regulations and costs.
But after months of constructive engagement through the New Deal for Business Group set up by the first minister, we now have a new approach of engagement and accountability.
Workforce shortages, rising interest rates, supply chain challenges and poorly designed regulation dominated conversations across Scotland’s business community.”
As chambers, we are prioritising key policies that impact every business in Scotland.
These include non-domestic rates, regulation and taxation.
There is a long way to go to resetting the relationship but the signal of intent to improve the current position by government is valued by the business community.
The reset of the relationship between business and government is an important step to support Scotland’s economy to grasp the transformational opportunities that lie ahead.
This country’s economy has certainly undergone significant transformations throughout its history, adapting to changes in industrialisation and global dynamics.
How we lead this next transformation will determine the future success of generations to come.
Looking ahead, I have no doubt that by focusing on three things – competitiveness, internationalisation and sustainability – Scotland is well-positioned to capture future sustainable economic growth.
Taking each in turn, how can we restore competitiveness?
I’d call on all governments to avoid policy decisions which create unintended consequences against businesses. And I’d ask our leaders to stop taxing and disincentivising business growth and entrepreneurship.
While Scotland remains an excellent place to do business, it’s clear that uncompetitive aspects of the tax environment are holding our economy back from fulfilling its potential.
That’s why we need a long-term tax strategy and a clear policy agenda which is laser-focused on building back business confidence and investment.
Turning to international trade, we all agree exporting and internationalisation must be
rapidly expanded to increase the number of Scottish companies doing business abroad.
From a chambers perspective, we believe collaboration and partnership is the route to turning the dial.
A recent evaluation report into Scotland’s export promotion support underscores this approach. Four in five (80%) of firms found our chamber network trade missions useful in helping to introduce new products to export markets.
The collective Team Scotland approach is on track to deliver an additional £4 billion-worth of export sales. Clearly, this route is key to scaling and growing our international ambitions.
Finally, sustainability. We are all alert to the opportunities and challenges to deliver
sustainable economic growth that supports net-zero ambitions.
That’s why the Scottish chambers network led this agenda and showcased our potential to the world at COP28 in Dubai, in partnership with the Scottish Government.
SCC led a delegation comprising 19 Scottish companies who showcased our solutions
and innovations to reaching net-zero. It highlighted our global reputation, attracting
investment into Scotland.
#COP28 is an opportunity to highlight the economic opportunities of a net zero future.
At @HWUDubai I welcomed 🏴 Scotland's delegation of 19 leading net zero companies.
Showcasing their expertise in agri+climate tech, data, space, hydrogen, tidal, and energy transition. pic.twitter.com/iVOcD6FQDn
— Humza Yousaf (@HumzaYousaf) December 4, 2023
We must continue to work collectively to deliver our just transition to net-zero and join forces with our international partners.
With business investment critical to putting Scotland back on a growth trajectory, we urgently need firms to unleash investment to unlock jobs and growth.
We should be more ambitious and competitive on business rates. And we should be committing to transform the planning system to stop delaying critical green energy and infrastructure projects.
Is our Scottish education and skills system fit for purpose?
We must also continue to look at the education and skills system to make sure it is delivering the skills we need for a modern, digital economy.
Closer collaboration is the route to economic growth and the responsibility of facilitating that lies with both business and government. We have sown the seeds during the past year and 2024 must deliver the results the business community expects.
Liz Cameron is chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce.