Independence: 84% of firms ‘have no plan for Yes’

More than four-fifths of surveyed businesses reported no plans for a Yes vote. Picture: TSPL
More than four-fifths of surveyed businesses reported no plans for a Yes vote. Picture: TSPL
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MORE than eight out of ten businesses in Scotland do not yet have plans in place to deal with the result of the referendum if the country votes for independence, a new survey has revealed.

Almost 84 per cent of Scottish firms that were questioned in the latest KPMG Business Instincts Survey said they had not yet considered a continuity plan for how to deal with changes if there is a Yes vote on September 18.

Issues such as potential changes to the tax regime if Scotland left the UK, the impact of any change in currency and the impact on trade with the rest of the UK are businesses’ main concerns, according to the survey.

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Craig Anderson, senior business partner at KPMG in Scotland, said: “It is clear that the business community is still seeking to have concerns allayed as we move closer to September 18.

“Our research suggests that most businesses probably do not feel sufficiently informed to make appropriate long-term plans, with any action likely to be taken only when the outcome is known.”

Nearly a third (29 per cent) of those questioned highlighted potential changes to the tax regime as being important to them while about a quarter (24.8 per cent) raised the issue of a possible change in currency if Scotland votes for independence.

Meanwhile, 21.9 per cent of respondents highlighted the possible impact on cross-border trade in Britain as being the biggest issue their company would face if there is a Yes vote.

Jon Meeten, head of tax for KPMG in Scotland, said: “The potential creation of an independent and wholly separate Scottish tax system could give rise to a period of uncertainty for businesses and individuals, as well as create opportunities to design a more effective system tailored to Scotland’s specific requirements.

“Regardless of the result of the Scottish independence referendum, the Scotland Act 2012 means that changes will be made to the structure and operation of taxation in Scotland.”

A total of 137 senior representatives from businesses in Scotland were questioned about the referendum as part of the survey, which was conducted between April and May this year.

Political reaction

Michelle Thomson, managing director of the pro-independence Business for Scotland said: “This is quite a small survey but it’s interesting that the thing most occupying business minds in Scotland is changes to the tax system, and we know that they’re coming in the next couple of years with or without the business benefits of independence.

“As Jon Meeten says, though, independence offers Scotland the chance to design a more effective tax system tailored to Scotland’s requirements and that’s an opportunity Scotland’s businesses won’t pass up.

“It’s clear, too, that Scottish businesses are relaxed about the changes that independence will bring, with 84 per cent of them not feeling the need to make any plans for it and that suggests that the positive messages about independence coming from Business for Scotland and others are getting through.

“The UK Government should be paying attention to this survey, though, because the concern of more than a third of executives about the availability of a skilled workforce becomes even more marked if Mr (David) Cameron and his colleagues carry on moving towards the European exit door. Scotland needs to stay in the EU and we need access to that continent-wide pool of talent.

“This survey underlines the advances we’ve made in getting our message across and highlights again that Scotland’s business future is better served as an independent member of the EU than as a part of a failing UK state.”

Scottish Labour MP Ian Murray said: “Employers in Scotland are right to be concerned about the impact separation would have on their business.

“Alex Salmond’s failure to give credible answers about what would replace the pound, how long it would take to get back into the EU and on what terms means Scottish firms are worried about the future.

“We know from the interventions of large and small employers that leaving the UK would cost jobs in Scotland and push up costs for families here.

“As part of the UK our employers in Scotland have access to a single market of more than 63 million people, rather than just five million. Where is the sense in putting a barrier between firms in Scotland and their customers based elsewhere in the UK?

“We can have the best of both worlds for Scotland. We have more powers for our Scottish Parliament and benefit from the security and certainty that comes from being part of something bigger.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Independence presents a unique opportunity for Scotland to maximise our economic potential and to develop our economy in line with our strengths and preferences, so it is only right that businesses should take an interest in the benefits independence can bring them.

“With independence we will be able to build on our support for businesses, strengthen innovation, improve access to finance and provide further support for entrepreneurship. We will create an efficient tax environment and set out a timetable to reduce corporation tax by up to three percentage points below the UK rate. In addition, a formal currency union is in the overwhelming economic interests of the rest of the UK.

“Scotland is one of the wealthiest countries per head in the world, but we need the powers of independence to make the most of our huge resources.”