THE boss of DIY chain B&Q has warned that investment would be put on hold in Scotland if there is a Yes vote in September’s independence referendum.
Sir Ian Cheshire, whose multinational firm Kingfisher owns the B&Q stores, said there were too many uncertainties surrounding currency and Scotland’s place in the European Union.
His comments came as Ian King, the chief executive of BAE systems, also expressed concerns about the effect independence would have on their business.
Speaking at his newest B&Q warehouse in Port Glasgow, Sir Ian insisted he will not pull out of Scotland if there is a Yes vote, but warned that independence would halt plans for a further 23 Screwfix shops north of the Border.
The Kingfisher chief executive said: “It would put a pause on everything. If we have differences on VAT, currency, it just puts everything into hibernation as we try to figure out what it will mean.
“At the end of that we have to consider what is the trading environment.
“Because Scotland is such an important part of B&Q, there’s no way we’re going to let it go, but it would be more complicated, probably more costly and less likely to attract investment.”
B&Q employs more than 2,600 people in Scotland and 20,000 across the UK. Screwfix, which Kingfisher also owns, has 27 shops in Scotland employing just under 400 people.
The prospect of Scottish independence was also the subject of discussion at BAE Systems, the defence contractor which builds warships on the Clyde.
In an internal blog sent to its 3,500 Scottish employees, Mr King suggested independence would raise “unhelpful” uncertainty. The UK government has said that no Royal Navy ships would be built in an independent Scotland.
Mr King stressed that how to vote was a political and personal decision for the people of Scotland. “But as far as our business is concerned, at present, we have certainty and stability in relation to those elements of our business which are located in Scotland, especially in Glasgow where we are consolidating our shipbuilding activities and investing in facilities for the future,” Mr King wrote.
“This is based on an expectation that the government will make their major production decision for the next generation Type 26 frigate by the end of this year. If Scotland became independent, we would no longer have that certainty.”
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal yesterday, Ivan Menezes, chief executive of the world’s largest whisky producer, Diageo, said it was “extremely important” for his company – and the Scotch whisky industry – to remain part of the EU to benefit from “free-trade agreements around the world”.
Mr Menezes did not come down on either side of the independence debate and emphasised that his company would remain in Scotland.
B&Q chief Sir Ian was with the Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont and the Labour MSP Duncan McNiell in Port Glasgow when he spoke about independence. Although Sir Ian’s company operates across borders, he said the impact of change would cause him problems.
The company’s UK-wide IT system would have to change and thousands of products may have to be repriced in B&Q and Screwfix, he said.
He insisted his warnings are from a purely business angle, and that it would be wrong to say Scotland would not be capable of being independent.
However, he said he would “strongly advise” a vote against independence. “There are lots of other reasons you might believe in – historical, political reasons for independence – I totally respect that,” he said.
“From a business point of view, I would strongly not advise it. There’s no way I can make that decision and I’m very conscious that a large chunk of our customers will also be voting Yes, and I respect that. As a business, through our lens, it is clearly better to be part of the UK.”
Sir Ian’s comments were welcomed by politicians campaigning to keep Scotland in the UK. But Yes supporters questioned the stance.
Last night, Tony Banks, chairman of Balhousie Care Group and the independence-supporting Business for Scotland organisation, said: “We will seek a discussion with Sir Ian to clarify some misconceptions about independence promoted by the self-styled ‘project fear’.
“An independent Scotland will remain in a common market and we believe there will be no change of currency. A senior UK minister has admitted the currency union will be continued.
“There will be no barriers to trade and, in actual fact, significant opportunities through the tax system to reduce costs for companies in Scotland.”
Mr Banks said the only risk of red tape and trade barriers for businesses came with a No vote “after which it looks increasingly likely Scotland will be dragged out of Europe by the rest of the UK”.
He added: “Kingfisher could usefully consider relocating its headquarters to Scotland.
“If and when they do, we will welcome the company, more new investment and jobs with open arms.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We welcome B&Q’s commitment to continue to operate in Scotland whatever our constitutional future and, as the company point out, they already operate across 11 different independent countries.”
“Scotland is an immensely wealthy and productive country and our economy continues to flourish, making this one of the best places to do business, but with the powers of independence we can do much more.”
The spokesman added: “On EU membership, we firmly believe that only a vote for independence will secure that membership, with all the benefits for jobs, trade and investment it brings, given the in-out referendum proposed at Westminster which risks taking Scotland out of Europe.”