TERRY MURDEN was underwhelmed by the First Minister’s Programme for Government
Well, it was hardly worth the wait. Humza Yousaf had been expected to put the government on an economic war footing. Instead, the guns fell silent. The Programme for Government was not so much a robust response to the clarion call from business but the dampest of squibs. Nothing to see or hear that might upset what was, in the end, the usual list of spending commitments.
Oh dear. And we all fell for the New Deal for Business rhetoric, the promise to put economic growth first and refocus government policy around wealth creation.
Apart from fifteen million quid found behind down the back of the Holyrood sofa to support entrepreneurs, Mr Yousaf gave us half an hour of woolly pledges to “improve” business rates, “transform” support for small firms through the enterprise agencies, and build a new relationship with business to support economic growth “for a purpose”, whatever that means.
Growth, he said, would not be pursued “for its own sake” (er… such as creating jobs, products and services?) but will be tied to tackling the social agenda, mainly eliminating poverty. Of course the government has a duty to help those in need. It’s just that the penny still hasn’t dropped on how it raises the money to fulfil those commitments. On the contrary, he’s is promising more tax rises that risks choking off growth.
This is a government that really doesn’t understand the concept of living within its means. It prefers the “spend now, pay later” practice of the reckless gambler who places big bets then blames the bank for allowing him to continue withdrawing cash. For bank, read Westminster, as it is the UK government that keeps bailing out this profligate administration (spend, spend, spend on ferries and services that have wracked up a £1bn deficit) which then has the audacity to blame it when the cash runs out.
Mr Yousaf boasted about the pay deals to doctors and teachers. Well, it’s easy to just keep ordering more drinks and adding them to the tab when someone else is paying and the markets aren’t taking any notice. If he was running an independent government the markets would not be impressed and we know what that would do to its credit rating.
It is perhaps no surprise that Mr Yousaf appeared so unwilling to declare a properly ambitious growth plan (or even mention oil and gas), what with the Greens looking on from the backbenches. His commitment to the partnership is crucial to getting his programme through parliament, but he’s losing confidence among those who see the Bute House Agreement underpinning the anti-growth agenda.
As I’ve said repeatedly in this column there are limits to what he can actually do to stimulate the economy in any meaningful way. But he could have given us more than a few paltry handouts and weaselly promises. For starters, by easing the cost of doing business, such as reducing the regulatory burden. He was even hesitant over dualling the A9 and support for enterprise which are within the gift of the government.
He must have regretted inserting a line in his speech supporting the tourism industry just as a protest by B&B owners was being waged outside the parliament over the short term lettings legislation that could put many of them out of business.
Terry Murden held senior positions at The Sunday Times, The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and The Northern Echo and is now editor of Daily Business