First Minister Humza Yousaf has rejected claims that his predecessor Nicola Sturgeon was anti-business – but admits companies felt overlooked under her leadership.
Speaking to the
ChamberTalk podcast, which launches today on all major platforms, Mr Yousaf said he wants to work with Scotland’s business community to design policies which will grow Scotland’s economy.
At the point of her resignation, Ms Sturgeon was at loggerheads with the oil and gas sector over the presumption against oil and gas, the fishing industry over highly protected marine areas, the whisky industry over plans to limit alcohol advertising, and the retail and hospitality sector over the deposit return scheme.
Mr Yousaf said responsibility for that lies with the whole cabinet – not just Ms Sturgeon – but he pledged to reset the relationship with Scotland’s wealth creators.
“We’ve all got to acknowledge that somewhere along the way, businesses felt that they weren’t being listened to adequately,” he said.
"My job as first minister is to make sure that is reset. That’s why we have the New Deal for Business Group where we’re making progress.
Are you listening, first minister?
Ryan Crighton, policy director at Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce, commended Mr Yousaf for stepping up engagement with business, but questioned whether the government was “really listening”.
Mr Yousaf responded: “Listening and engaging doesn’t mean we are going to agree on everything. We’re not. Let’s say that from the beginning there’s going to be differences in what you want government to bring forward in terms of policy and what I will do in terms of policy.
“But I want to make sure that business genuinely feels that they are assisting us in relation to policy development around the economy.”
The Chamber challenged Mr Yousaf on the income tax rise for higher earners which was announced in December, despite eight business groups speaking out against the move.
“These decisions are never taken lightly, particularly when you’re going into an election year,” he said.
However, he challenged claims that his “progressive” tax regime would drive people away from Scotland.
He added: “People have been saying to me and the government for years that if the SNP is on a progressive journey of taxation that people are not going to come to Scotland.
“The stats just show that is not true. More people are coming to Scotland than leaving Scotland and there’s got to be a reason for that.
“I think that is because there’s opportunity up here, I think it’s because we offer things like no tuition when it comes to university, things like the, babybox, no prescription charges, free childcare, free personal care, free bus travel for under 22s, over 60s and people with disabilities.”
Asked if he would reverse the changes if evidence was to emerge showing people were leaving , the first minister said he would follow the evidence.
He added: “Behaviour impacts will always be considered as part of any income tax decision. You would be a foolish government not to look at what the behaviour impacts might well be in relation to any taxation decision.
“What the UK government does in relation to taxation is something that we’ve always got to keep an eye on.
“If there is a point that such a divergence would cause that exodus from Scotland than we’ve got to be aware of that."
You can listen to ChamberTalk now on all major podcast platforms.