Swedish business turning to Scotland

20 October 2023

World-leading innovation, talent, and a supportive business environment, have all made Scotland a popular destination for businesses to grow. Today, there are some 346,000 private sector enterprises in Scotland, including many Swedish businesses such as Vattenfall, IKEA, Handelsbanken and Sweco – just to name a few. The Link spoke to Seona Shand, International Trade Director at the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, about business opportunities in Scotland, how Scottish-Swedish relations expand beyond merely business, and why Swedish businesses should be looking to Scotland when choosing where to invest in the UK.

"We’re both nations of innovators. We’re known for our supportive business environments, our talented people and creativity on both sides. I think it’s a little bit like a match made in heaven.”

The Scottish government has outlined its ambitions to transform Scotland’s economy in a national strategy published in March 2022. In the next ten years, Scotland is aiming to deliver economic growth through a five-point programme focusing on entrepreneurship, productivity, skills, new markets, and economic equality. “The strategy sets out the need for a new culture of delivery, where partners come together with a ‘Team Scotland’ approach to deliver the actions that we need to really transform the Scottish economy. We want to embed entrepreneurial learning, get better across education and skill systems, and create a major world class entrepreneurial infrastructure,” says Seona Shand, International Trade Director at the Scottish Chambers of Commerce. “And there will be areas where the national strategy seeks to shift the dial.” 

Building on Scotland’s strengths
The strategy seeks to build on Scotland’s strengths in energy, financial services, creative industries, and life sciences, while exploring opportunities in areas such as tech, space, and decarbonisation. “By far, the largest driver for the Scottish economy is the business services sector, followed by manufacturing, electricity and gas, construction, agriculture, and particularly with a rural economy, forestry and fishing as well,” Seona explains. “When it comes to new market opportunities in Scotland, we want to continue building on our strengths. We want our businesses to win an even greater share of domestic opportunities, but very much looking internationally.”

Promoting international business relations
Seona comes with over a decade of experience in international trade, promoting business relations between Scotland and diverse markets across the globe. Before joining the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, a business network consisting of 30 local chambers and representing more than 12,000 companies, she worked with the Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce. “I’ve been in my current post for a year, but I have actually been in the chamber network for about 14 years. I hope that I bring to the Scottish Chambers deep knowledge, real practical experience of trading internationally, and doing business in new markets.”

Scottish tech on the rise
Scotland is the most attractive location in the UK outside of London for foreign direct investment, according to the EY Attractiveness Survey 2022. And digital technology, including creative, games and space tech, is Scotland’s fastest growing sector for foreign investment. “I think that countries look very much to Scotland because there’s a cost effectiveness there. But actually, we also have the education and the skills.” 

Around 100,000 people in Scotland are employed in the tech sector, contributing with a GVA of a whopping £6.5bn to the Scottish economy. “And the plan is to actually grow that,” Seona says and explains that within fintech alone, the plan is to boost the subsector to 15,000 jobs by 2026. 

Scottish-Swedish relations go beyond business
Scotland’s total export to Sweden amounted to £585m in 2017, of which technology accounted for £165m, making tech Scotland’s largest export sector to Sweden. But, according to Seona, Scottish-Swedish relations extend beyond the exchange of goods and services. “We have a centuries long partnership with countries in the whole Nordic region. Culturally, societally, and linguistically – all traces of that can actually be found across Scotland.” 
Apart from similar views on diversity and inclusion, Seona argues that Sweden’s and Scotland’s ambitious sustainability targets is another area that unites the two. “We share the same ambition to accelerate decarbonisation, and we want to work closely to exchange expertise on renewable energy technologies and sustainable economic development.”

The Scottish Chambers and the Swedish Chamber have worked closely for years and have organised several webinars and B2B meetings together. “It’s a good relationship, and it’s gathering momentum. And I think that’s really important – how do leading organisations like ours come together for Swedish and Scottish businesses? Because there is a win-win for both nations.” 

Support from the Scottish Government
The Scottish Government is committed to internationalising the Scottish business landscape and has partnered with the Scottish Chambers of Commerce in a long-term “International Trade Partnership”, enabling the Scottish Chambers to organise and engage in activities promoting international trade and investment. “This public-private partnership that we have with the government is quite unique. There aren’t a lot of organisations that do that.” 

Recently, the Scottish Government extended the partnership for another three-year period. “It is great to have the support of the Scottish Government. For organisations like the Swedish Chamber, it allows us to continue this work for at least another three years and to keep the conversations and connections going. Let’s just make the world a slightly easier place to do business. And ultimately, that’s great for all of our economies.”

Join our mailing list

and keep up-to-date with the Chamber's news and events.

Read our Privacy Policy here