North East business leaders react to Scotland's vote to remain part of the UK

Senior businesspeople from across the region are now turning their attention to what devolved powers for Scotland could mean for the North East

James Ramsbotham
James Ramsbotham

Concessions to Scotland following the country’s No vote should not be at the North East’s expense, regional business leaders have reiterated in the wake of the Scottish Referendum result.

This morning Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said the Scottish people now expected promised devolved powers to be rolled out in “rapid course.”

A range of leaders from the North East business community have offered their views following the result - many concentrating on what devolved powers promised to Scotland will entail for the region.

Ted Salmon, FSB North East regional chairman, said: “The referendum result will have a big impact on our members and small businesses across the North East.

“While the people of Scotland have said no to independence the extra powers that have been promised by the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats will be a big challenge to the North East and our future economic growth.

“For small businesses to be able to compete we need to see the Government now commit to decentralising more powers to the region from Westminster to ensure that we can compete on a global scale.

“Alongside this decentralisation of powers to be effective needs to be matched with a stronger decentralisation of funding to ensure we can achieve tangible success.”

North East Chamber of Commerce chief executive, James Ramsbotham, said: “The historic decision of the Scottish people will be celebrated by some in business and lamented by others.

“The North East is uniquely exposed to the changes set to occur in Scotland. Even with a “No” vote, considerable devolution North of the Border, pledged by all of the UK’s major political leaders, has the capacity to impact on business confidence with the North East closest of all to an increasingly assertive Holyrood.

“We recognise that the referendum is the start, rather than the end, of a process of change. Businesses expect Westminster and Holyrood to reach a devolution settlement that is clear, fair to both sides, and swiftly executed. It must not however impact disproportionately on the North East and risk undermining our economic recovery and growth, which has been hard won and must not be jeopardised in any political negotiations.

“The North East and our neighbours most closely impacted by changes in Scotland must be part of the settlement consultation. This is not a decision that should be reached in the corridors of Holyrood and Westminster only. And a fair settlement is as much about finances as it is about powers.

“Scottish devolution should trigger a new debate on local autonomy in North East England, where policies are tailored to meet the needs of our region and not those of London and more influences over how their taxes are spent. Our businesses deserve a say in how a new, less centralised UK is governed in future.

“The North East has strong business links with Scotland and economic health north of the Border can only be a good thing for a vibrant regional economy. Let us take this opportunity to further build relationships and make the most of the strong links we already have, particularly in the process industry and oil and gas sectors.”

North East entrepreneur and NELEP board member Jeremy Middleton said: “The result of the referendum is to be welcomed, because it is good for the UK and good for Scotland.

“However, the debate has raised a lot of questions for the North East, particularly because all Parties have heralded the rapid introduction of new powers on tax and spending for Scotland, which will potentially have very significant repercussions for the region.

“Depending upon what powers are given, we may be looking at changes to Corporation Tax, which could entice businesses North of the Border, or VAT rates which could affect spending in the region by enticing shoppers to Edinburgh or Glasgow, rather than the MetroCentre or Newcastle, for example. Likewise, incentives for investment in Scotland could drive investors North.

“Here in the North East, existing organisations, such as the Local Enterprise Partnerships, need to get together to make the case for changes which will rebalance the economy to the North of the country. We need to be calling for such things as lower air passenger duty for all regional airports, an HS3 system, which starts in Edinburgh and comes down the East Coast and improved road links with Scotland. We should work with Scotland to put together mutually beneficial plans for such infrastructure improvements, and then take them to the UK Government.”

Heather O’Driscoll, managing director of chartered accountants and business advisers, Waltons Clark Whitehill, said: “The vote to keep Scotland in the Union will have a huge impact upon the North East. The debates surrounding the referendum have highlighted the need for the region to make a strong case for a larger share of funds and greater decision-making powers.

“However, it is important that this does not bring with it an extra layer of bureaucracy. Organisations such as the LEPs should be utilised to put such funds and powers to the best use for the region.”

Nationally, Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said: “There can be no doubt that many businesses will breathe a sigh of relief that the prospect of a contentious currency debate and prolonged economic negotiations have been avoided, and yet we know that significant changes are still on the cards.

“The main party leaders have made clear their intention to devolve further power to the Scottish Parliament, and over time this will give the people of Scotland more of a say over how to manage their economy.

“We are now at the beginning of a national debate about economic devolution. The Scots started that debate, and now it’s time for all of us to contribute new ideas about how our nations, regions and cities are run for the benefit of the entire country.”

John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of commerce (BCC) said:

“The people of Scotland have spoken. Their historic decision to remain part of the United Kingdom will be a relief to many businesspeople and a disappointment to others, but it was a decision for the Scottish people alone to make.

“The companies I speak to are clear that this cannot simply be the first in a series of referenda, until one side or the other gets the result that it wants. Business and investment prospects across the UK would be deeply hurt by a Quebec-style ‘neverendum’ – a lesson that politicians must heed.

“Yet businesspeople all across the UK have long known that the referendum would be the start, rather than the end, of a process of change. Businesses will now expect Westminster and Holyrood to reach a devolution settlement that is clear, fair to both sides, and swiftly executed.

“Businesses want greater devolution of power to be accompanied by greater devolution of finance, so that Scotland, and the rest of the United Kingdom, take responsibility for their respective tax and spending decisions. English, Welsh and Northern Irish businesses and taxpayers should not be subsidising support or incentives for their Scottish counterparts – nor the other way around.

“Any devolution deal for Scotland should trigger a new debate on local autonomy in England, where businesspeople in many areas want more freedom from Westminster and more influences over how their taxes are spent. Local businesses deserve a say in how a new, less centralized UK is governed in future.

“We have been through a period of disruption. Creative disruption can be galvanizing to countries, just as it is to businesses. It is up to the leaders of our nations now to make sure this is the result. Our United Kingdom now has the opportunity to define a future direction that stimulates growth and prosperity as never before – and for us together to make our way in the world, firmly on our own two feet.

The pound strengthened on news that the union would remain and the FTSE 100 is forecast to rebound by more than 100 points following Scotland’s referendum.

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