SCOTLAND can and should “strive to be a global hub for purposeful business”, the First Minister has said.

Nicola Sturgeon addressed delegates in an opening speech at the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI) Annual Forum in Edinburgh on Monday.

The forum will see up to 300 people – consisting of SCDI members and senior leaders from the Scottish and UK governments, business, third sector and academia – coming together to discuss Scotland’s future across two days.

The First Minister pledged the Scottish Government’s support to work in partnership with the country’s various industries amid a period of “really significant” challenges such as Brexit and the pandemic, alongside high inflation.

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“The challenges at present – as I don’t need to tell anybody in this room – are really significant,” Sturgeon said.

“Not just for Scotland, but for the UK, much of Europe – indeed, for much of the world right now.”

She added: “We are confronting those challenges, of course, at a time where inflation is at the highest level we’ve seen in more than a generation – indeed, higher here in the UK than it is in any other G7 country – (and is) having a terrible impact on individuals and families the length and breadth of the UK.

“It is, of course, contributing to the increasing cost of doing business, and indeed that is being exacerbated by Brexit, and particularly the form of Brexit that has been pursued.”

However, Sturgeon said that despite there being “no shortage” of issues to confront, there were grounds for optimism in the country’s economy.

The SNP leader cited a “glowing” Ernst & Young (EY) report on Scotland’s success in attracting overseas investment, telling delegates: “That doesn’t happen by accident.

“It is the result of much hard work by many organisations, businesses and individuals across the country.”

She described the results of the ScotWind auction held in January – which could see £25 billion of investment being made in Scotland – as something that “illustrates very well the potential we have to turn our vast natural resources into massive economic benefits, supply chain and jobs benefits across the country”.

She also pointed to the country’s role in last year’s Cop26 in Glasgow, where she said the country was “able to showcase to the world that businesses based here in Scotland are actively engaged in finding the solutions to the biggest challenge currently facing the planet”.

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The First Minister highlighted the SCDI’s Making A Good Living – A 2030 Blueprint for Scotland report, published last year, which suggests Scotland “should aim to be a global hub for purposeful businesses that profitably solve the problems of people and planet”.

She said: “Our strengths, not simply when it comes to net zero but also in areas like life sciences and big data – even with all of the headwinds that I spoke about earlier on – make it possible to fulfil the ambition that SCDI has set out.

“We can, and we should strive to be a global hub for purposeful businesses.

“By doing that, we will give ourselves the best chance of improving our economy, increasing the wellbeing of the country, and, in the process, will make a beneficial contribution to the world that we all live in.”

The First Minister confirmed the expansion of Scotland’s “Productivity Clubs” – a network with more than 1800 members across Scotland offering peer support to improve and grow enterprises in areas such as digital transition and fair work.

On the topic of Scottish independence, Sturgeon said she did not view holding a referendum as a “distraction” to other issues the country currently faces.

“It’s actually fundamentally about how we best equip ourselves as a country to address those challenges and fulfil our potential – not just now, but in the future,” she said.