The phrase ‘unprecedented times’ can be overly used. It has entered our everyday vocabulary, liberally applied to a wide variety of events ranging from political developments to sporting outcomes.
However, it’s fair to say ‘unprecedented times’ is an understatement when it comes to describing the past six weeks we’ve experienced as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The impact of COVID-19 on businesses in Scotland and the country’s economy cannot be underestimated. The recent State of the Economy report by Chief Economist Gary Gillespie, which predicted GDP in Scotland could fall by as much as 33%, made for sobering reading.
That’s meant all of us who have a stake in Scotland’s economy have had to work together to support the country’s economic wellbeing and provide assistance to those who need it most.
Just over a month ago, Scottish Enterprise, along with our partner agencies Highlands and Islands Enterprise and South of Scotland Enterprise, outlined our initial commitments to businesses.
We pledged to ensure support was available for companies by reviewing and reprioritising our budgets, target our expertise and resources for the best possible effect, deploy our international networks to connect individuals and firms and provide insight to ensure impactful operational and policy decisions are made.
These commitments have formed the basis of all the collaborative actions Scottish Enterprise has since undertaken.
Whether it has been feeding intelligence into Scotland’s multi-agency action plan, working with the Scottish Government to support distressed companies, coordinating requests for critical NHS supplies, or assisting Scottish Enterprise account managed companies to repurpose, an aligned response has been at the heart of everything we have done.
And in that spirit of partnership, Scottish Enterprise and our partners look forward to working with the Scottish Government to deliver its £100m fund announced by Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop last week (21 April).
This additional support, shaped by the unique insights that Scottish Enterprise has been gathering and sharing from businesses, will provide much needed funding to protect self-employed people and SMEs in distress.
In collaboration with our other public agencies, we are currently working at pace to ensure the infrastructure and capacity is in place to ensure funds get to SMEs that are vital to our local and national economies. Applications for this fund will open shortly, with further information to be provided imminently.
We are also acutely aware of the importance of providing information to businesses as quickly and efficiently as possible. To date, we've had more than 500,000 page views on the FindBusinessSupport website and more than 9,000 calls to the Scottish Government COVID-19 business helpline.
That’s why we’ve opened up Scottish Enterprise’s social media channels as a supplementary route for any companies seeking advice or information on COVID-19. Our team are working tirelessly to answer questions we receive online and provide guidance as quickly as possible.
We are also rolling out further initiatives to enhance collaboration amongst businesses. Our new peer-to-peer service will mobilise Scotland’s firms, build new alliances and develop solutions to mutual challenges we are facing now and will encounter in the future.
And we’ve been delighted by the early response from business leaders so far: one of the first to sign up for this new service, Mike Stewart, Director of Maintenance at Chevron Aircraft Maintenance, described it as “a really practical tool that allows businesses to make quick connections and share experiences with others who are facing similar challenges.”
We’ve also been maximising our international networks, such as GlobalScot, to tap into the incredible worldwide expertise we have at our disposal. It was wonderful to see many of our GlobalScots respond to Trade Minister Ivan McKee’s call-to-arms to help deliver critical supplies to NHS Scotland and other frontline services.
Our GlobalScot network has also provided pivotal insight and intelligence on how Scotland should best respond to this crisis, focusing on the themes of business resilience and business recovery.
The GlobalScot network continues to grow in number and prominence and we are building a new community engagement platform that will provide those across the world with an affinity for Scotland the tools to connect, collaborate and support one another for our country’s benefit. This new platform will be unveiled soon and will allow Scotland’s international collaboration to be even smoother and productive.
While our priority has been to provide immediate support to those who need it most, we also recognise that Scotland’s economic development environment is going to look very different than it did pre-COVID 19.
These ‘unprecedented times’ will come to an end and we need to start thinking now about how we will reset, restart and recover the country’s economy. That’s why Scottish Enterprise welcomes the decision of the Scottish Government to establish an advisory group on economic recovery.
This group will be supported by our own Chair, Lord Smith of Kelvin, who has agreed to be part of the process of gathering the views on the business aspects of the economic response.
Only a collaborative approach will allow us to kickstart the economy and deliver the inclusive growth we all want to see. Scottish Enterprise has the ability and experience to work within turbulent times: despite the uncertainty caused by Brexit, it was thanks to the efforts of my dedicated team and partners that ensured we met or exceeded all of our ambitions in terms of attracting investment, delivering jobs and leveraging growth funding for Scottish businesses.
And our investment arm, the Scottish Investment Bank, continues to support ambitious, internationally-focused Scottish companies, helping them raise finance as they scale up. SIB has had its best year ever, spending £80m which leveraged £330m from the private sector.
Scottish Enterprise stands ready to assist in the partnership effort that will be required over the coming days, weeks and months ahead to ensure Scotland remains internationally competitive and at the forefront of the future economy in low-carbon, advanced manufacturing and emerging technologies.