September already, weekdays in East Kilbride over for me and back to Parliament. Summer’s gone far too quickly – some would say it hasn’t arrived yet – and I didn’t manage to do half as much as I’d planned.
One thing I did manage to do was visit more local companies, some along with the Federation of Small Businesses. The diversity of small enterprises in East Kilbride is amazing; training organisations, social enterprises, service sector, manufacturing. One thing loads of them have in common though is that they benefit from the Scottish Government’s Small Business Bonus.
Almost 100,000 businesses in Scotland are benefiting from the scheme which will continue throughout the next Parliamentary term if the SNP is re-elected.
The Small Business Bonus is a policy that does a great deal more than it says on the tin. Its significance reaches beyond the direct impact it has on individual businesses and their employees, combining pragmatic support for the economy with social concern for communities.
The kinds of small businesses that benefit from rates relief under the scheme are not merely businesses, nor even only employers – they are also providers of local services and amenities. They play a key role in our economy and it’s absolutely right that we support them in any way we can.
Small and medium-sized enterprises are as crucial to a growing economy as the big employers. We should be doing everything we possibly can to attract business into East Kilbride, to support the growth of existing businesses, to encourage new business start-ups in the town. Skills training is important too, identifying the gaps and helping to have them filled, making sure that careers’ advice is appropriate.
Skills Development Scotland has been funded by the Scottish Government to give advice to young people at an earlier age than we do now about careers that interest them, the subjects they need to study to pursue these careers and what work means more generally. Of course parents and carers can be involved. I note that South Lanarkshire Council is one of the initial authorities to be funded so I trust East Kilbride will be included by them.
All of these things surely tie in with the work of the East Kilbride Task Force, and yet again this week I am writing to the Chief Executive of South Lanarkshire Council for an update. Information is never voluntarily offered. I find it ridiculous that East Kilbride has SNP elected members in both Parliaments and more SNP councillors than those of any other party, yet the only political representation on East Kilbride’s Task Force is Conservative and Labour.
Surely we should all be working together for the benefit of the town, co-operating in managing the transition from a new town with major industrial employers, to an innovative and attractive business centre!
Every bit as important as encouraging business of course is to ensure that employees are well-treated. The Scottish Government has established the Fair Work Convention, tasked with developing a fair employment and workplace framework for Scotland by March 2016 – a blueprint for implementing fair work.
Meanwhile companies are being encouraged to sign up to the Scottish Business Pledge, a partnership between the Scottish Government and business to commit to fair and progressive policies and embrace the principles of fairness, equality, opportunity and innovation. Companies wanting to sign up must pay the Living Wage to all direct employees over the age of 18 and commit to achieving other principles. For example, not using exploitative zero-hours contracts and supporting progressive workforce engagement.
90 companies have now signed up to the Scottish Business pledge – roughly one firm a day since its launch. I was really delighted to be visiting Coca-Cola Enterprises in East Kilbride with Nicola Sturgeon when they announced that they had signed up. More to come in our town I hope.
My last Monday morning before heading back to Parliament was spent with some absolutely super folks, courtesy of the Adult Learning Partnership. They arranged for me to meet with and hear the experiences of adult learners in East Kilbride, hosted by some of the excellent community learning team from South Lanarkshire Council. A wide range of people, some fairly young, some, like me, not quite so young. The courses are varied, as are the motivations of the learners – confidence building, new skills, mutual support, stepping stone into further or higher education or employment. It’s been said that you learn something new every day – I certainly did this morning.