The Scottish Government will provide up to £50 million of cash for a new competition as part of efforts to transform the country in the wake of the Covid pandemic.
Kate Forbes announced details of the national challenge competition as she promised more support for some of those businesses that have been hardest hit by the pandemic.
She pledged £12 million to help businesses in the 13 local authority areas that are being held under Level 2 restrictions.
The Finance and Economy Secretary said: “Businesses who were expecting to open or see reduced restrictions as a result of moving to Level 1, but who will now remain in Level 2, will receive weekly support.”
She pledged more money for taxi drivers, with an additional funding of up to £62 million being made available, taking support for this sector to more than £90 million.
In addition to this, there will be a further £40 million for the cultural sector, Ms Forbes said.
The cash was announced as she spoke out about the Scottish Government’s ambition to “rebuild and restore the economy”.
She said: “I very much hope though, one day soon, all the restrictions will be a thing of the past.
“And with such freedom comes the opportunity to rebuild and restore the economy.
“And our mission as a Government is this – to create the best conditions for entrepreneurs to seize the opportunities to produce, to invent and to scale up, and in so doing create secure and satisfying jobs that pay a fair wage.”
Ms Forbes said: “Getting that right will combat poverty, will lead to better health and social outcomes and will generate the public revenue to invest in the best public services.”
She insisted the Government was “committed to being pro-prosperity, pro-growth and pro-business” as she promised a new 10-year strategy for economic transformation will be produced in the next six months.
Ministers will also establish a new new Council for Economic Transformation bringing together economists with industry leaders, trade unions and others.
The Finance Secretary added: “Pioneers and entrepreneurs will be the bedrock of this transformation, and we will deliver a national challenge competition, providing funding of up to £50 million to the projects, or projects with the greatest potential, to transform Scotland.”
She said: “This is an official invitation to the entrepreneurs and the thinkers, the job creators and the heard workers. We need you, work with us to make Scotland thrive.”
Tory MSP Liz Smith, however, questioned the impact that a possible second independence referendum would have on businesses.
The Conservative finance and economy spokeswoman stressed businesses wanted stability and certainty, as she questioned: “What certainty and stability can there possibly be with the prospect of yet another referendum on Scottish independence, when we know that basic questions about currency, about economic borders and about the size of the fiscal black hole have not been answered.”
Ms Smith insisted that this issues were “fundamental to businesses as they plan ahead yet all they get is this constant constitutional rumbling and uncertainty”.
Scottish Labour’s finance spokesman, Daniel Johnson, insisted recovery from coronavirus must be the “relentless focus” of the parliament.
He stated: “It is becoming abundantly clear that this health crisis is precipitating an economic crisis – the number of Scots out of work has quadrupled, the number seeking relief from council tax has doubled, at the depths of lockdown the economy shrank by one quarter and, despite the relaxation of restrictions in recent months, our economy is predicted to only recover to two thirds of its pre-pandemic output.”
And Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, Willie Rennie, claimed the Government’s industrial strategy was currently “in tatters”, as he lamented public investments in companies made in an attempt to save jobs.
Citing investments in the Ferguson Shipyard and BiFab yards that entered administration, Prestwick Airport and a smelting plant in Lochaber, Mr Rennie said: “The money is lost, the jobs aren’t returned and the workers are let down – and the reputation of the Government continues to be tarnished.”
But Scottish Green co-leader, Lorna Slater, said the Government had “a window of opportunity to build new industries, to plan and create a new economy”.
She insisted: “Recovery means building a new economy, an economy that puts wellbeing of people at its heart, and that doesn’t put our very existence under threat.
“It is possible to build such an economy, and actually relatively straightforward.”