Business looks for new joint understanding for post-Brexit future

Scotland faces an uncertain future. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
Scotland faces an uncertain future. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
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Chamber of Commerce take views of key clients to government, writes Robert Carr

While Scotland, the UK, Europe and beyond have been trying to get to grips with the monumental Brexit decision, chief executives of chambers of commerce from across the UK (including Liz McAreavey from the Edinburgh chamber), met UK government ministers last week to discuss the likely implications of the EU referendum. Scottish ministers have also been collaborating with Scottish businesses to identify priorities for any negotiations on our trading relationship with the EU and rest of the world.

Anderson Strathern set up a dedicated Brexit Group to inform clients in the weeks and months ahead and we want our clients’ voices to be heard. So Liz McAreavey had a paper with a summary of views from many of our key clients.We think these views are worth sharing.

Most of our client base believe we have arrived at a regrettable situation and need a solution which limits the damage while identifying opportunities. Business does not like the current uncertainty, apparent absence of forward planning and risk of drift; these factors are generating an increasing lack of confidence.

The best chance of finding the right solution is to negotiate with leaders of member states once their electoral mandate is clear, rather than with European institutions.

Scotland’s business leaders dislike unnecessary regulation, restrictions on access to capital and inefficient planning processes. They recognise a more successful Scottish’s economy means better-funded, better quality public services. Our vision for Scotland is one of sustainable economic growth where all of Scotland’s people prosper and includes having a working life where fair work drives success and wellbeing for individuals, businesses, communities, organisations and for society.

Fair work is work that offers effective voice, opportunity, security, fulfilment and respect; that balances the rights and responsibilities of employers and workers.

Solutions that may work for one part of the UK do not necessarily work for other parts. For example, solutions to replace CAP that work for large agricultural estates on a highly-commercialised model, will not work for Scotland’s remote and fragile rural communities where any diminution in income or increased costs would render these enterprises unsustainable.

What we heard from clients was that they want to remain in single market with the rest of the UK. Although Nicholas Macpherson, former Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, promoted the benefits of a Scottish pound and a Scottish central bank, for the moment the preferred currency is UK sterling.

Scottish business would like access to the European single market, including free movement of labour, and greater devolution of resource distribution and activity, particularly away from London and the south east in financial services. A strong social framework is seen as desirable. There is a need for a distinct voice for Scottish businesses when strategy is being developed and treaties negotiated.

There are many questions: could Scotland have a different relationship, for example in the EEA, when England and Wales are not? If it can, then activity might relocate to Scotland rather than leave the tax envelope of the UK to go to Ireland or beyond. Would ‘passporting’ be available to Scotland if it was not available to England and Wales? Can we manage the implications on the border between Scotland and England? Does the Northern Ireland model apply? Could the Barnett formula be adjusted to reflect this movement of activity within the UK? Could you couple more fiscal devolution and reduced Barnett contribution to an acceptable compromise for both Westminster and Europe/Nation members?

There is a recognition that our traditional form of political decision-making needs revision.

All stakeholders must engage in an open conversation about where Scotland and the UK is now, the maelstrom of challenges we face, where we want to be and how we are going to get there. This conversation ought to be conducted as an open heartfelt dialogue to collectively create and deliver a common vision for the future.

• Robert Carr is chairman of Anderson Strathern and an executive member of the firm’s Brexit Group

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