A CRUCIAL report which aimed to set out ways to transform Scotland’s economy was criticised for an over-reliance on free market thinking and not proposing enough state intervention to help people on low incomes before its publication was delayed by ministers, the Sunday National has been told.

Plans for the ambitious strategy were unveiled in the Programme for Government last September with the promise the document would launch a 10 year national strategy for economic transformation in the autumn.

But last month Finance Secretary Kate Forbes announced the document had been postponed due to the emergence of the highly infectious Omicron variant.

People close to the project have told the Sunday National that it had received a negative response from stakeholders and the emergence of the Omiron variant was a “useful excuse”.

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Two sources told The Sunday National that the role of income tax in the redistribution of wealth and how it could help create a well-being economy wasn’t mentioned.

One said it did not align too well with the SNP’s focus on building the economy through government action to eradicate poverty as set out in the party’s flagship Social Justice and Fairness Commission.

On income tax, the commission said those who are better off should “carry a bigger share of the load”.

An insider said: “There was far too much about free market economics and not enough about the well-being economy. It was very business led. Income tax wasn’t mentioned once.”

A second said that while the report may have been delayed because of Omicron, the variant wasn’t the only reason.

“The report seemed almost ready in October and final touches were being put to it so I was surprised there was a delay,” the source.

“In November it seemed almost ready and there was an expectation it would come out before the budget [on December 9].”

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They added: “I was then expecting it would be published this coming week but I don’t think it will be. If I was looking for an excuse Omicron would be a good one.”

The source said Forbes appeared to be taking a more “market friendly approach” than many in the SNP would be comfortable with. “Kate Forbes seems to be pushing for the economy to be business led with little regulation. Her strategy argues that business shouldn’t have too many restrictions,” the source said.

“The big issue is how do you improve wage growth for low income workers. It seems the minister is aware of this as an issue but expects that rising incomes generally will float all the boats rather than wanting to have more government interventions. She seems to be opposed to more measures to modify income tax for instance.

“Her answer is that if Scotland has more highly paid jobs that will increase the average salary.”

The source added that during a consultation with stakeholders the draft report received “push back”.They said: “At one meeting of stakeholders there was quite a lot of push back. People were looking for more support for social objectives than that being offered. It seemed to be another round of warm words without clear actions.”

The insider went on: “Feedback was pretty negative. People were wanting to see some ‘meat on the bone.’ They said they was too much on entrepreneurship which privileges business. There were concerns that the language is opaque. It was vague, non-committal, with few paths to impact. There was criticism that it talked to a traditional economy rather than allowing those innovating in a place-based way, community based, social enterprise and third sector solutions”.

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Roger Mullin (above), a former SNP MP and Treasury spokesman, said it was reasonable the Scottish Government attempted to do more to boost the economy, but added under devolution it had limited powers to do so. He added full transformation of the economy could only be achieved by independence.

Mullin, who is not involved in the ten year strategy but who sat on the SNP’s growth commission, said many taxation powers (for instance, corporation tax) still lay at Westminster. He said: “All the macro economic powers remains at Westminster so the Scottish Government is very limited. You can’t solve the problems with devolution.”

Asked about whether ministers should try to address economic issues under devolution, Mullin added: “It is perfectly reasonable to say you have to use every means at your disposal to do the best you can now to improve matters.” Forbes told MSPs “publishing a 10-year strategy when business is looking for financial support next year is a challenge”.

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She added: “We have been working with the advisory council – the strategy is in a very good place. My hope is that we will be able to publish the plan as soon as possible. However, we need to ensure that there is as much space and capacity as possible in Scotland’s economy for all economic actors to participate. While we are in the grip of a new variant, perhaps now is not the right time to do so.”

The Scottish Government was asked to comment by the Sunday National on the fact that people had said Omicron wasn’t the only reason for the delay in the report’s publication, and that it had received negative feedback insofar that it was too defined by free market economics and lacked sufficient detail about how government can help low earners and build the economy. A Scottish Government spokesman retorted: “These claims are unfounded. The strategy is to be published soon and will aim – within the powers we currently have available – to ensure that Scotland maximises its economic potential to create a more prosperous and fairer economy and society for all.

“As Finance and Economy Secretary Kate Forbes previously set out, the essential importance of supporting business through Omicron, including identifying funding and working to secure action from the UK Government, has been our priority in recent weeks.”