Scots international exports ‘lower than 2002’

Whisky is one of Scotland's major international exports. Picture: John Devlin
Whisky is one of Scotland's major international exports. Picture: John Devlin
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INTERNATIONAL exports from Scotland are lower than they were in 2002, a new paper has claimed.

Economist Margaret Cuthbert said while international exports increased between 2012 and 2013, overseas trade from Scotland “actually fell by 2.5% in real terms” from £20.14 billion in 2002 to £19.64 billion in 2013.

There’s a growing body of evidence that reinforces our approach is working...which echoes our trade and export analysis, and recognises Scotland as a top European location for foreign direct investment

Paul Lewis

She stated: “Despite the good performance in 2013, Scotland still lags in exports behind where it was in 2002.”

Her paper, published by the Jimmy Reid Foundation, questioned the degree of collaboration between the UK and Scottish government bodies charged with boosting international exports.

It also called for more reliable and up-to-date figures to be published detailing the level of Scottish exports to the rest of the UK and overseas.

As part of this, Ms Cuthbert said the Scottish Government’s global connections survey - which gathers data from companies which sell their products and services to other nations - should either be revamped or scrapped.

The paper claims there has been a “fundamental failure of the UK and Scottish government in the collection, collation and analysis of trade statistics for Scotland”.

She says the global connections survey data “is not timely enough” and adds that it contains no information on the barriers to exporting faced by firms “although the question was asked in the survey form”.

She adds: “The Global Connections Survey in its current form either needs a complete revamp or should be scrapped.

“What is required is a more thorough survey of trade between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

“Currently, there is no compulsion on businesses to answer the global connections survey.”

Both UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) and Scottish Development International (SDI), which is part of Scottish Enterprise, are tasked with encouraging exports from Scotland and investment from overseas.

While the paper states “both agencies say that they work closely together and minimise duplication”, Ms Cuthbert adds: “Can the two organisations, Scottish Enterprise and UKTI, really be collaborating well together when the UKTI annual report makes no reference to Scotland bar showcasing two companies and giving some inward investment data; the Scottish Enterprise annual reports make no reference to the work of UKTI and the UKTI website appears to carry few Scottish events.”

Both Scottish Enterprise and SDI carry out “considerable activity in the sphere of trade and investment”, the paper states, but it adds the data is “not available to make any meaningful judgement of how well the agencies are doing in the ultimate goal of improving Scotland’s export performance”.

Ms Cuthbert added: “Without good data, economic strategies can end up as ‘wish lists’ and can actually harm the economy.

“The effect of past strategies in Scotland cannot be adequately scrutinised to determine whether or why they were successful and cost-efficient, or why they failed.

“We fool ourselves about our economic strategy without knowledge based upon analysis of the facts.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “All the export statistics published by the Scottish Government are classified as national statistics.

“This means that the statistics are produced according to sound methods, are readily accessible and are managed impartially and objectively in the public interest.”

SDI managing director Paul Lewis said: “We have some of the most robust economic data and evidence in Europe which underpins our approach to improving Scotland’s international trade and investment performance.

“There’s a growing body of evidence that reinforces our approach is working, including that from independent industry bodies and organisations such as EY and the Financial Times, all of which echo our trade and export analysis, and recognise Scotland as a top European location for foreign direct investment.”