SNP welcome Scottish business calls on UK budget

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By a Newsnet reporter

The SNP has welcomed comments from business organisations in Scotland calling for the Chancellor to make tackling unemployment and easing the credit squeeze key areas in Wednesday’s Budget in order to encourage the recovery of the Scottish economy.

Improving access to credit for businesses, cutting air passenger duty and fuel prices and prioritising capital investment projects are all top items to address for Scottish businesses in the coming budget.

The calls come as there are encouraging signs that the Scottish economy is continuing to make a slow recovery from the recession.  A survey carried out by the Bank of Scotland, and published on Monday, showed that the Scottish jobs market is improving.  According to the survey, February witnessed the fastest rise in permanent appointments since October last year, with a particularly strong demand for staff in IT and computing.

Donald MacRae, chief economist at the Bank of Scotland, said: “The deterioration evident from April last year appears to have been arrested.  This latest barometer reading suggests the Scottish economy is continuing a slow recovery from recession rather than lapsing back into recession.”

Another encouraging sign of confidence in the Scottish economy came with the announcement from Sir Tom Hunter that he was extending the “Entrepreneurial Spark” scheme which offers free services to aid business start ups.  The scheme set up offices in Glasgow last year, now Sir Tom has given the project space at his headquarters in Ayrshire.  Up to 30 new company start ups will be able to make use of the facilities to help establish their businesses.

Scottish government Finance Secretary John Swinney welcomed developments, but stressed that there was no room for complacency and the UK Treasury must take action to sustain the recovery.

Mr Swinney said: “There are encouraging signs in this month’s survey, with the barometer showing the 16th consecutive monthly improvement in labour market conditions in Scotland, and the highest rate of improvement since last October.

“However, we must not be complacent.  Last week’s labour market statistics made clear that we need sustained action in this week’s UK Budget to support economic recovery.”

Speaking to the Herald newspaper on Monday, Stuart McKinnon of the Federation of Small Businesses urged George Osborne to improve access to credit for businesses and cut fuel prices. “From a Scottish perspective one of the key issues is new non-banking finance for the business community,” he said.

He added: “Obviously the price of fuel at the pumps is having an impact on many small businesses out there, and any move to ease the pressure on petrol and diesel costs would be most welcome.”

The Scottish Chambers of Commerce is calling for a rethink on the raising of Air Passenger Duty, which it says compromises the competitiveness of Scottish airports, and SCDI Chief Executive Dr Lesley Sawers said: “This Budget should prioritise increased capital investment, especially infrastructure projects which generate a short-term stimulus and enhance GDP growth in the long-term, and measures to stimulate private investment.”

Paul Wheelhouse, SNP MSP for South Scotland, who also sits on the Scottish Parliament’s Finance Committee, said:

“These calls from Scottish business organisations chime with the SNP’s stance on the Chancellor’s Budget.

“George Osborne should listen to these calls and make cutting fuel prices, tackling unemployment and investing in capital projects a priority for Wednesday’s budget.

“The Budget also must detail solutions to tackle the funding squeeze on small businesses, which play a pivotal role in driving growth.

“Only today new statistics show further improvement in the jobs market, with the fastest rise in permanent placements since October.

“And I also welcome Sir Tom Hunter’s announcement that he is extending a scheme to help start-up companies that gives new firms advice, free office accommodation, IT access and mentoring.

“The Chancellor must capitalise on this current positivity within the business sector, not damage it.”