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Growing Scotland’s Green Wellbeing Economy

Scottish Parliament
Neil Gray MSP Wellbeing Economy

Neil Gray MSP

 Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work and Energy

Scottish Government Wellbeing Economy Secretary Neil Gray writes exclusively for Chamber on the Scottish Government’s aim to create a Wellbeing Economy.

A wellbeing economy is one in which a strong society and strong economy depend on one another. A close partnership between government and business is essential if we are to deliver an economy which is fair, green, and growing.

Businesses in Scotland sustain more than two million jobs and our entrepreneurs are helping make Scotland one of the most innovative small countries, from leading the race to net zero by 2045 – five years ahead of the rest of the UK – to cutting-edge advances in areas like satellite launch technology.

We have seen the development of more energy-efficient aircraft parts for a global market at the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland in Renfrewshire near Glasgow, and the manufacture of the country’s first array of floating solar panels by Edinburgh-based Nova Innovation.

These milestones are only possible through the talent of our people.

Research referred to in the New Deal for Business Group report shows businesses that consider and prioritise the collective wellbeing of people and the environment – now and in the future – are more successful and more resilient in times of crisis, with further payoffs from increases in innovation, long-term profitability, productivity, and growth. 

New deal for Scotland

The economic damage caused by Brexit and more than a decade of UK Government austerity has contributed to an unprecedented cost of living crisis faced by our businesses and households. It makes prioritising economic wellbeing even more important.

While we are bound to the UK’s economic model and do not hold all the financial levers needed, we will continue to use all the powers we do have to grow a green wellbeing economy, while making the case that we need independence to enable Scotland to match the economic success of our European neighbours.

Many independent countries that are like Scotland have higher productivity and investment, lower inequality, and greater social mobility. If they can be more successful with the powers of independence, then why not Scotland?

A wellbeing economy is one that works for people, not the other way around. It protects and restores nature, supports health and wellbeing for all and promotes fair work – including the creation of more high-quality, well-paid jobs.

My ambition is for Scotland to be the best place to do business. Scotland will only be a successful nation if our businesses are successful.

Working in partnership

Success stretches much wider than gross domestic product. A wellbeing economy is one that protects the environment as well as tackles poverty. It must prioritise good health, equality, community safety, and education.

Those goals can only be achieved by working together with business, driving economic growth for a purpose. This creates strong and sustainable finances to support public services and communities, as well as a just transition to net zero.

That is why I have established a New Deal for Business Group, drawn from groups representing areas like retail, tourism, food and drink, and local authorities.

Co-chaired by Dr Poonam Malik, Head of Investments at the University of Strathclyde, and myself, the aim is to reset the relationship between government and industry to achieve good, mutually beneficial outcomes.

This is only part of the action we are taking. Creating a wellbeing economy is a defining mission for the Scottish Government. 

The National Strategy for Economic Transformation, which sets out the Scottish Government’s long-term ambitions, is our first economic strategy to explicitly emphasise wellbeing. It recognises that this will only be achieved through an economy that is sustainable, benefits people and is consistent with our environmental aims. Scotland will be recognised as an international benchmark for how an economy can be transformed and emissions reduced.

Our Just Transition Commission is the first of its kind anywhere in the world. It has a central role in guiding Scotland’s move towards a net zero economy – in a way that prioritises people, employment, and communities. 

Shortly after taking up this post in March, I convened a Wellbeing Economy Expert Advisory Group, whose purpose is to provide guidance on actions we can take to support our transition to a wellbeing economy.

We have also demonstrated leadership in sharing expertise with international partners as a founder member of the Wellbeing Economy Governments network, alongside the Governments of Finland and New Zealand.

Scotland’s world-leading National Performance Framework takes a much broader view of what an economy is actually for. It outlines our focus on creating a more successful country with opportunities for the whole of Scotland to flourish.

Our Wellbeing Economy Monitor tracks broader economic outcomes beyond traditional metrics such as GDP. Covering issues such as health, equality, fair work, and the environment, it helps us assess Scotland’s progress in creating a wellbeing economy. 

Local action

So, we’re taking important action at a national and international level. But we know that it is also essential at a local level. 

Our Wellbeing Economy Toolkit is a guide for our local authorities – which provide a range of public services at a more regional level across Scotland – to develop local strategies focused on progressive outcomes.  

We are working closely with local authorities and wider partners on Community Wealth Building – a strategic approach to economic development. Community Wealth Building is focused on creating fair jobs, supporting business growth and local supply chains, and enabling greater community influence over how land and buildings are used – ensuring local areas benefit from economic activity. We have recently consulted on legislation that will make it easier to implement that model across Scotland. 

If we are to create a wellbeing economy, then we need wholesale change. The economy doesn’t exist separately from our social aims and our environmental objectives – they are all equally important to building a fairer and more equal Scotland. 

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