Scotland politics

Nicola Sturgeon wants Scotland to be more competitive

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Media captionFirst Minister Nicola Sturgeon tells business leaders that competitiveness and equality are key challenges

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has set her team of economic advisers the task of making Scotland more competitive.

But she also wants them to find ways of ending inequality.

Ms Sturgeon's aims were outlined in an address she made at the Glasgow offices of Scottish and Southern Energy, one of Scotland's biggest firms.

The speech was dismissed by the Scottish Tories as "adding up to a socialist agenda which sets a course back to the 1970s".

The first minister told the audience of business leaders: "Equality and prosperity should not be seen as enemies of each other, but as partners. One reinforces the other."

Ms Sturgeon confirmed the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), which was set up by former first minister Alex Salmond, would continue to be chaired by Crawford Beveridge.

She added that, as well as retaining the advice of Nobel Prize winning economist Prof Joseph Stiglitz, Scotland's former chief medical officer Sir Harry Burns would be a new adviser looking at the issue of inequality.

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Media captionNicola Sturgeon: "We need a strong growing economy if we are to have a fairer society that I think we all want."

Ms Sturgeon said she wanted the council to focus on how to "enhance competitiveness".

She explained: "A key part of this debate will always be about how we compete with London, and we need to consider both its economic value and the benefits of its proximity as well as the significant challenges it poses.

"London has a centrifugal pull on talent, investment and business from the rest of Europe and the world.

"That brings benefits to the broader UK economy. But as we know, that same centrifugal pull is felt by the rest of us across the UK, often to our detriment. The challenge for us all is how to balance this in our best interests."

However, Ms Sturgeon said Scotland faced a "second big challenge" on how to "better align" the objective of economic growth with the "need to tackle inequality".

She added: "The council's focus on competitiveness and equality reflects the fact that these are crucial areas if Scotland is to build on the relative success of recent years and face up to the challenges that lie ahead."

We predicted before Nicola Sturgeon came into office that she would be Scotland's most left-wing First Minister

Murdo Fraser, Scottish Tory MSP

Responding to the speech, Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said his party had predicted that Ms Sturgeon would be Scotland's "most left-wing first Minister".

He explained: "She [Nicola Sturgeon] hasn't been in the job two weeks and already she's proven us right.

"The scorecard so far is a home-buyers tax on aspiration, a proposed income tax hike, and a ridiculous land tax which she unveiled last week.

"Whatever the warm words to business, that adds up to a socialist agenda which sets a course back to the 1970s."

'Positive step'

Scottish Labour's finance spokesman, Iain Gray MSP, said the Scottish business community was "right to reserve judgement on Nicola Sturgeon's promises to help them".

He added: "She has been a key member of the Scottish government for the past seven years, during which no coherent strategy to support businesses or economic growth has ever emerged.

"The SNP government constantly trumpets the small business bonus, which they introduced to secure Tory support for their budgets when they governed as a minority.

"After seven years, it really is time they came up with something for those businesses which do not benefit from that small business bonus."

Liz Cameron, director and chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said the first minister's commitment to an "open, working relationship" with the Scottish business community was a "positive step forward".

She added: "The First Minister specifically focused her attention towards ensuring that Scottish business not only has a competitive environment to work in, but world-leading. We share that ambition.

"However, the proof of the pudding is always in the eating. We need to see policies being developed and emerging which match what business needs to enable us to continue to compete, create jobs and increase our investment.

"My plea is that business is actively engaged at the ideas stage so that we can truly influence and work in an effective partnership with government."

Top rate

Ahead of her Glasgow speech, Ms Sturgeon gave an interview to the Financial Times in which she insisted she would be a "very strong ally" for Scotland's companies.

In the piece she said: "I want them to know that they have got nothing to fear from me," she told the newspaper, insisting that her social democratic plans for "greater equality" depended on a strong economy and a "vibrant business base earning the wealth that makes that possible."

Last week she told the Scottish Parliament that, were she making the decision now, she would raise the top rate of income tax, which applies to people earning more than £150,000 a year, from 45% to 50%.

The headline measure in her first annual programme for government - reform of land ownership - also raised corporate eyebrows with plans to force shooting estates to pay business rates and a warning that landowners who posed a barrier to sustainable development could expect unspecified government intervention.

In her FT interview Ms Sturgeon seeks to ease landowners' concerns, insisting that the state would only intervene in "very particular" cases.

"This is not some kind of class warfare," she said.

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