A new £500m package of financial support for private sector business investment was announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as she set out plans to increase economic growth in her Programme for Government.
The three-year Scottish Growth Scheme will see the Scottish Government unlock investment for the private sector, which is facing increased uncertainty as a result of Brexit. Individual investment guarantees, and some loans, of up to £5 million will be available to small and medium sized firms who would otherwise be unable to grow because of a lack of investment finance.
The scheme will be open to new and early-stage high growth potential companies, with clear export growth plans, particularly in technology-intensive sectors and businesses in emerging markets, such as financial technology (FinTech). As financial guarantees, the support will not come from existing spending plans, and will instead see the Scottish Government share some of the risk faced by small companies, when they make big investment decisions.
The announcement came as the First Minister revealed which capital investment schemes will benefit from £100 million of accelerated capital spending in this financial year.
In a programme designed to boost growth and equip Scotland’s economy for the future, the First Minister also announced steps to deliver on the Government’s commitment to 100 per cent superfast broadband and establish a National Manufacturing Institute for Scotland. She also confirmed £290m worth of European Structural Funds projects to support Scotland’s people, communities and businesses. With partner funding, this will deliver a total investment of £650m.
The announcement of new economic support came as part of wide-ranging legislative programme that will see 14 bills introduced, continuing to deliver on the Scottish Government’s priorities to create opportunities for all and transform public services. Four of the bills will be introduced as a result of new powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament including a Social Security Bill to establish a social security agency.
On education, the First Minister reaffirmed her commitment to plans that will deliver the Government’s priorities for childcare, improve school attainment and widen access to further and higher education.
This will include a review of school governance, the direction of more funding to headteachers and a focus on de-cluttering the curriculum to empower schools and free teachers to focus on standards and attainment.
The First Minister announced that the provision of fully funded early learning and childcare would be doubled over the Parliament, and that immediate approaches to reducing up-front childcare costs would be piloted.
In the further and higher education sector, at least 116,000 full time equivalent college places will be maintained and student support reviewed. The Scottish Government will work with stakeholders and the Commissioner for Fair Access to develop an implementation plan for the recommendations contained in the Widening Access Commission’s “Blueprint for Fairness”.
Outlining her plans for continuing to support Scotland’s public services, the First Minister confirmed an investment of £200m in the Golden Jubilee National Hospital and five elective centres across Scotland over the next five years, and also the introduction of a Domestic Abuse Bill to prevent and eradicate violence against women and children.
The Land Reform Act will be implemented and the measures in the Community Empowerment Act taken forward as first steps towards making it easier for people to develop their local economies and environments.
The First Minister said: “This is a new parliament, with new powers, operating in a new political, economic and constitutional context.
“This Programme for Government sets out how we will use those powers and adapt to that new context.
“It recognises that Government is about more – much more – than legislation. It therefore sets our legislative programme in the context of our wider ambitions and, crucially, it sets out how we will seek to protect Scotland’s interests, particularly our economic interests, in the wake of the EU referendum. Today’s statement is about the nuts and bolts of delivery – the hard graft of turning our commitments into reality.
“Most importantly of all, it demonstrates how we will implement the mandate the people of Scotland gave us to drive sustainable economic growth, reform education and create opportunities for all, transform our public services and empower local communities.”
Setting out a major new economic initiative, the First Minister said: “The proposal for a Scottish Growth Fund is an exceptional response to an exceptional economic challenge.
“This is a half-billion pound vote of confidence in Scottish business, Scottish workers and the Scottish economy.
“We are determined to build an economy where everyone has a fair chance to contribute to growth, and where everyone can share in the benefits of growth.”
Highlighting the continued focus on education, FM continued: “Supporting children and families is at the heart of this Programme for Government. We will ensure that every young person can fulfil their potential, because that’s the only way in which Scotland can fulfil its potential.
“We must not tolerate a situation where some children from deprived areas do less well at school than those from affluent areas. The measures we will implement over the next five years constitute a comprehensive approach to tackling that attainment gap.
“This Programme for Government demonstrates how, with an iron focus on the day to day business of government, we will create opportunity for all.”