Candidates vying to become Scotland's next first minister have set-out how they want to work with the North-east business community to grow Scotland's economy.

Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce wrote to all three candidates four weeks ago with a list of three priorities on behalf of our 1,150 member companies, who collectively employ over 100,000 people in the region.

We asked for a re-set of the strained relationship between business and government, and an urgent review of anti-business policies, including the Deposit Return Scheme, and the ongoing consultation on restricting alcohol advertising and promotion.

We also pushed for significant investment in infrastructure to capitalise on the net zero opportunity, and to better connected the North-east to the the rest of the UK, Europe and the world.

And we pushed for the government to drop its newly adopted position supporting a presumption against oil and gas exploration, which will prove economically damaging and seriously risks creating an adverse environment for investment in the industry.

Here's how the candidates responded.

Response from Kate Forbes MSP

Read our letter to Kate Forbes here.

She responded directly, writing: "I welcome calls from the Chamber of Commerce for a meaningful reset of the relationship between business and government. I have placed economic growth and realising Scotland’s potential at the heart of my campaign: I firmly believe that a strong growing economy is the backbone in the mission to tackle poverty.

"Turning to your three key priorities, I think we are all clear that we do need to move away from reliance on oil and gas through a just transition. For me, the key word here is ‘transition.’ We must transition, but we must also be careful to avoid any cliff edges in policy. Transition must take place at a rate that does not compromise energy security, job security in the North-east or our ability to invest in renewables.

"On your second point around the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), I fully recognise the additional strain that an overly complex scheme has placed on business, particularly small businesses which I believe are the backbone of the Scottish economy. If elected First Minister, I’d like to give businesses some breathing space by pausing the roll out of the DRS, which is a well-intentioned scheme, until some of the issues raised by business can be ironed out.

"Lastly, as a Highlander and MSP for communities in the North, I particularly appreciate the points you have made around infrastructure and transport links in the North-east. If elected First Minister, I have pledged to upgrade the A96 as a matter of priority.

"I agree that the electrification of rail must be at the heart of the Scottish Government’s plans to improve transport links in the North-east but that that must deliver improved journey times and reliability. Routes where electrification is not appropriate offer significant opportunities for the introduction of rail technologies such as battery and hydrogen, and by the end of this parliament, I hope to see at least one pilot service in operation.

"As First Minister, I’m also committed to carrying through legislation to ensure developers provide electric vehicle (EV) charge points in the construction of new residential and non-residential building, as well as exploring how roll out in the North-east might be delivered more effectively in partnership with business.

"The North-east is poised to be a world leader in renewables – but only if we invest in infrastructure. The economic opportunities are significant, and if elected First Minister I am committed to working with the Chamber of Commerce and others to best examine how we might improve upon existing infrastructure to increase the competitiveness of the North-east and maximise economic potential.

"If elected First Minister, I look forward to building on the work and relationships that I have already established as Finance Secretary with the business sector to promote a thriving and productive Scottish economy."

Response from Ash Regan's team

Read our letter to Ash Regan here.

Her team responded to us, writing: "Ms Regan is currently reviewing the letter and hopes to respond in due course.

"You will be aware that Ms Regan has adopted some of the ideas touted in the letter and is keen to engage with the North-east in the coming weeks.

"She is keen to ensure that the North-east isn't left behind or neglected if she becomes First Minister - which I am sure you and your members will all appreciate."

Response from Humza Yousaf MSP

Read our letter to Humza Yousaf here.

He responded: "Over the course of this very quick 5 week campaign, I have visited Aberdeen on several occasions, setting out my vision for a just transition in the North East which will see the region embedded as a global renewable superpower. I hope my time spent in the area reflects how much I value the North East, and the importance of its position at the heart of my vision for a fair, prosperous Scottish economy centred around wellbeing and the transition to net zero.

"I have repeatedly acknowledged that the just transition process is one that will only be effective if achieved via genuine and open dialogue with stakeholders and workers in the energy industry; we know and learn from experience the damage that can be done to communities if we don’t take the people with us.

"In any government I head, we will never leave people and communities behind. We will invest in people to make sure that they are able to play their full part in the net zero economy. As part of that I would ensure that existing funding is targeted at skills - enabling people to top up their skills so they can access the tens of thousands of good quality jobs that will be available, and to support young people coming into the labour market to work in new low carbon energy industries.

"I would also back the skills passport project, which would enable people to move smoothly between oil and gas and renewables.

"I am also conscious of the need to maintain energy security throughout the process of transition, and balancing the journey to net zero with our interim oil and gas needs - we do not want to be importing oil and gas from elsewhere with a greater carbon footprint.

"A just transition is not just about people working in the oil and gas sector either. I also recognise the knock-on effect on local businesses and communities if jobs are lost, which is why my government will prioritise building the clean energy industry. I want us to create more jobs and wealth, which stays in Scotland and fuels our wellbeing economy instead of simply boosting the profits of big oil companies.

"As First Minister, I will also keep pressure on the UK Government to support the acorn carbon capture project, which is a huge investment and essential for decarbonising our energy.

"I recognise the importance of the reinstatement of rail services between Aberdeen and the rest of the North East, in helping deliver this project, as well as being a key another key component of the transition to Net Zero - ensuring remote and rural communities are connected via effective Scotland-wide public transport infrastructure. I keenly await the outcome of the feasibility study into this project, awarded funding of £250,000 from the Just Transition Fund last year, and commit to doing all that I can as First Minister to propel it further.

"As regards the wider principle of policy consultation with businesses in Scotland, I believe I have made clear my commitment to maintaining an open door to our business communities. I recognise that the Covid pandemic, spiralling energy costs, Brexit and other factors such as the war in Ukraine have compounded the issues faced by businesses in Scotland and addressing this is key to Scotland’s future. In the case of the Deposit Return Scheme, I have committed to delay the participation of small businesses, to give more time for support to implement necessary infrastructure. During the campaign I have committed, as First Minister, to introduce a small-business impact assessment at a policy-making level, to prevent such disruption when implementing future policies that strive to further our transition to net zero.

"I believe strongly that the best way to build a prosperous and fairer Scotland is to build a strong working relationship with business, as the needs of business, of government and our wider society are aligned. We all have a shared interest in upskilling Scotland’s workforce, and creating good quality jobs that deliver fair work and fair pay. We all have a shared interest in educational attainment, health and wellbeing, in research and development and in our infrastructure and resources. There is no policy area that exists in isolation, so we need ensure that everyone with a stake in Scotland is round the table when taking the decisions that will impact on us all. Business needs to be at the heart of that process.

"I hope this response offers some assurances to your members about my unshakeable commitment to support to the business communities of the North East, placing them at the heart of my vision for a Scottish economy based on wellbeing, prosperity, and ensuring climate security."

More like this…

View all