NICOLA Sturgeon is to call on the Tories to end austerity and invest in jobs as she unveils plans to boost manufacturing in Scotland amid fears of a downturn following the Brexit vote.
The First Minister will blame a backlash against the Conservative Government’s economic policy for the Leave win in the EU referendum as she stresses the need for a different approach in a keynote lecture in Sheffield this evening.
Her visit comes just over a month after she reopened the Dalzell steel plant in Motherwell after it was bought from Tata by Liberty House in a move which saved scores of jobs and was assisted by the Scottish Government.
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Speaking ahead of her engagements in the city, she underlined findings of a report by the NIESR economic think-tank last week which highlighted “a hard Brexit” could hit exports by around £3 billion a year, and reiterated a commitment to establish a National Manufacturing Institute for Scotland (NMIS).
“Right now, 190,000 people are currently employed in manufacturing, which accounts for 52 per cent of all of Scotland’s international exports. Yet we know manufacturing and export industries will suffer if they are outside the single market,” she said.
“Our Manufacturing Action Plan commits us to establish a National Manufacturing Institute for Scotland, to promote continuous innovation, improve productivity and increase investment.
“With the revitalisation of Scotland’s steel industry and the enormous potential of our low-carbon industry, this is the right time to invest in opportunities in our manufacturing sector.”
The visit comes days after a court ruling on triggering Brexit talks threatens to derail Theresa May’s plans, and as Philip Hammond prepares to deliver his Autumn Statement later this month.
Hammond has already abandoned his predecessor George Osborne’s plan to eliminate the deficit and achieve a surplus by 2020, and has indicated he will prioritise investment in infrastructure and housing through borrowing.
Speaking to an audience of 1,200 at the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute, Sturgeon will tonight say that the vote for Brexit was also a vote against austerity.
The First Minister is expected to say: “We need to demonstrate that being open to free trade and free movement isn’t just good for the economy as a whole.
“It benefits individuals and communities too. It creates, rather than curtails, new opportunities for everyone. And it can lead to a society which is more prosperous, more inclusive, and more cohesive.”
She is expected to add: “Austerity has already caused huge social harm and brought no economic benefit – it has failed, categorically and comprehensively, on its own terms.
“We know that people on low incomes were more likely to vote to leave the European Union, as were areas with low employment rates. UK economic policy has just not given enough people, enough grounds for hope.
“While the UK Government may have abandoned its original debt reduction target, the pain for working people is set still continue – the Resolution Foundation estimates working families on low incomes will be worse off in the years ahead as a direct result of both austerity and Brexit.
“So the Chancellor of the Exchequer needs to change course in his Autumn Statement in a fortnight to invest in the economy and support public services, offering hope for the future rather than playing on the fears of the present.”
At the reopening of the Dalzell plant in September, Liberty House Group executive chairman Sanjeev Gupta paid tribute to the support of the Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise in helping the company rescue the plate works.
Scottish ministers played a key role in the deal through a “back to back” agreement involving the Government buying the plants from Tata and immediately selling them on to Liberty, with the sale completed under the same terms with no cost to the taxpayer.
The works provide steel plates used in industries such as shipbuilding, construction, mining, oil production and heavy vehicle manufacture. The new owner said in September that the plant has “already secured a significant number of orders for plate”.