MORE than nine out of 10 business leaders in Scotland believe that the UK needs a comprehensive industrial strategy, according to the latest Business Growth Fund (BGF) Growth Climate Index.

The survey of business bosses and entrepreneurs, which measures confidence in the UK’s business growth has also revealed that three quarters (67 per cent) want the government’s proposed Industrial Strategy to directly target support towards emerging businesses and sectors like clean energy, robotics and biotechnology, compared to just 18 per cent who believe that the government should prioritise support for established business and sectors.

The findings show that 91 per cent of business leaders agree that under certain circumstances, it is right for the government to intervene in the private sector to support economic growth and a further 84 per cent believe that the government should focus on supporting SMEs specifically as it seeks to boost productivity.

While there was broad agreement on the principles, respondents are divided over whether further clarity on Brexit is more important for business than an industrial strategy at this stage – 53 per cent agree compared to 47 per cent who disagree.

However, the evidence indicates that business leaders are overall feeling more positive about the outlook for growth. The results of the previous Growth Climate Index, conducted immediately after the EU referendum vote, showed that 68 per cent believed conditions would worsen compared to just 15 per cent who expected them to improve.

This has changed to 44 per cent expecting conditions for growth to improve over the next quarter and 38 percent who expect them to worsen. 18 per cent expect no change.

When asked about their assessment of the past quarter, 38 per cent believe that conditions for growth have improved over the last quarter compared to 20 per cent who believe they have worsened, and 42 per cent think they have remained the same. Again, this represents a significant change from the last Growth Climate Index conducted in July 2016 when 58 per cent believed that conditions had worsened in the previous quarter compared to only 14 per cent who thought they’d improved.

Investor Patrick Graham, of BGF in Scotland, said: “The Government’s Industrial Strategy is enjoying strong support from the private sector but business leaders clearly want a break from the past.

“Rather than solely propping up established players and businesses at the top, there is a clear appetite for a new kind of industrial strategy which supports and energises growing businesses and sectors, but also recognises the role that smaller businesses can play in driving innovation and eliminating the productivity gap. This task will only become more important as we leave the EU and build a new trading relationship with our European partners, and indeed the rest of the world.

“Whilst uncertainty remains, this latest survey points to signs of cautious optimism and indicates that resilient British businesses are beginning to develop a positive and pragmatic vision of our future.”

Earlier this week, a Grant Thornton’s International Business Report showed that confidence among Scottish businesses had stabilised, with the economy predicted to return to growth in the coming months.