Scotland needs to catch up with other countries’ economic growth rates, Enterprise Minister Jim Mather told Lothians’ business representatives.
In a wide ranging question-and-answer session with members of Midlothian and East Lothian Chamber of Commerce, he said the SNP-led Government wanted to establish a new ‘North Star’ of increased sustainable growth.
Mr Mather, who also holds the portfolios of energy and tourism, said that for the past 30 years the Scottish economy had grown at an average of 1.8% a year compared with 2.3% for the UK as a whole, 3.1% for Norway and 5.2% for Ireland. In 2006 Scotland had been ranked 31st out of 61 countries in the world competitiveness index, with the UK in 21st place.
“There is a great deal to catch up,” he commented in the meeting at Winton House at Pencaitland, the stately home which dates from the 15th century and the Scottish Renaissance. “Our plan is to achieve an increased vibrancy in Scotland that gets us on the same growth rate as the UK by 2011 as a platform to move forward.”
He said the Scottish Government was seeking to create a more attractive business climate and galvanise the participation of the business community, partly through encouraging Chambers of Commerce to become more involved at regional, local authority and community levels. Industry groups were being encouraged to get together to discuss issues which stood in the way of achieving their objectives.
The Minister fielded questions from Chamber members on a variety of subjects including funding for renewable hydrogen and fuel cell projects, business rates, planning regulations and tourism.
On tourism he was asked about VisitScotland’s target of a 50% revenue increase by 2015. “We want to achieve increased revenue by improving the visitor experience and creating better career opportunities in the industry for young people,” the Minister commented. There had to be a more balanced approach than merely a numerical revenue target, and diversity within the tourism sector was essential.
Asked about slow planning processes by representatives of East Lothian’s proposed first golf and leisure resort hotel at Whitekirk, he said efficient handling of planning applications could help Scotland’s competitive appeal.
Persuading applicants that planning procedures in East Lothian took place “crisply, properly … that approves good projects in a timely way” would add to the County’s breadth of appeal for inward investors, he said. “And Scotland plc can add to its competitive appeal by an improving ability to do that when people are looking at an investment decision about where they go.”
Gregor Murray, Executive Director of Midlothian and East Lothian Chamber of Commerce, said he hoped the Minister would be able to return to provide an update on the Government’s plans and hear what progress member organisations had achieved. It was important to maintain the two-way information flow, he added.
He thanked Sir Francis Ogilvy for lending Winton House for the occasion. One of Scotland’s finest stately homes, it is used on an exclusive basis for corporate dinners, lunches, conferences, weddings, clay pigeon shooting, falconry and team-building activities. It remains the home of Sir Francis and Lady Ogilvy.