With no elections and no referendums in the diary, The Scottish Chambers of Commerce sees 2018 as a year to focus on growing Scotland’s economy.
As policy makers grapple with an underperforming economy, and Brexit negotiations intensify, this year SCC will focus on skills shortages and internationalisation to boost lagging exports, while delivering practical growth programmes for member companies.
In overseas trade, this will be the year when the Network’s careful relationship-building begins to yield measurable commercial results for Scottish companies.
Since assuming the SCC Presidency in April, I have been continually impressed by the capacity and inventiveness within the Chambers Network. Our task for 2018 is to consolidate the Network’s big gains of last year, while boosting Chambers influence to the wider benefit of Scotland.
Local chamber members include leaders in technology and business processes that can compete with the best. The whole nation can take inspiration from these world class manufacturing exporters.
Take Kongsberg Maritime of Wick, makers of the finest deep sea cameras in the world, using Scottish technology to explore the “Blue Planet”. Or Lochaven International in Stewarton who supply the Hogwarts school uniform for the Harry Potter film series, and for Harry Potter attractions in Florida and London. Or Michelin, based in Dundee for nearly half a century, whose capacity to produce 1000 tyres an hour will be further increased by a £100m investment.
By using our connections to forge business-to-business relationships in Europe and beyond, our Chambers Network will leverage the power of the international Chambers organisation to match member companies with the clients, suppliers and partners of the future.
In April, we will lead Scotland’s largest ever private sector-led trade mission to China, hoping to escort 30 businesses to Shandong Province, now seen as Scotland’s beachhead to this vast market.
As the overall shape of future trade relations between the UK and the EU emerges from the Brexit negotiations, SCC will continue to monitor the content of the deal, and advocate for Scottish business priorities, notably secure labour supply and continued ease of passage for goods and services.
Closer to home, where recent economic forecasts continue to paint a challenging picture for the UK and for Scotland, SCC will continue to press our governments to help business to thrive.
First and foremost this means improving the supply of skilled people. We will continue to give feedback to government on skills gaps while actively supporting initiatives such as Developing the Young Workforce.
On tax, we will reinforce our view that gains from even marginally increased taxes on middle and higher earners may be outweighed by losses in talent and investment if Scotland is perceived as the highest-taxed part of the UK.
Last year was a year of positive change for Scottish Chambers of Commerce. We have restructured our internal organisation, forged a new partnership and co-location with Strathclyde University Business School and made impressive gains in international trade. Meanwhile our mentoring programme has continued to thrive.
In advocating for members on important areas of public policy, such as non-domestic rates and income tax, the SCC has ensured that, for better and worse, Scotland’s political leaders have made their decisions in full knowledge of the views of the nation’s wealth creators.
With the welcome encouragement of Scottish Ministers, we will step up our efforts to build a constructive working relationship with the Scottish Government, which will continue to bear fruit in 2018. We will also further our work to increase influence at UK Government level, notably through our Westminster Reception in March 2018.
I wish all of you a very happy and a prosperous New Year.