Chamber News 6th January 2016
The real strength of a business – or of a business organisation – can be judged by how well it performs in the face of the unexpected. If 2016 serves up as many surprises as the year just ended, how ready will we be?
A lot happened in 2015 that none of us saw coming. We were surprised in turn by the prolonged recovery, the deep and damaging continuation slump of our oil price, by the return of a majority Conservative government at Westminster, by the election of a hard left Labour leader, and by the closing of one of Scotland’s main arteries, the Forth Road Bridge. That infrastructure failure blighted the year end for thousands of Scottish businesses and reminded all of us of the importance of continually investing in our transport infrastructure.
Given the above, it would be rash to offer predictions about how global economic circumstances will impact and influence business and the economy in Scotland as we head into 2016. Unpredictability also surrounds the Westminster Government’s plans to hold a referendum on EU membership, both the timing and the possible terms of the UK’s future membership, on which we will all be asked to vote.
For all that, we at the Scottish Chambers of Commerce Network look forward to 2016 with confidence.
This positive outlook stems from a sense that our priorities are increasingly widely shared. As we move on from a prolonged period of constitutional debate and speculation, there is consensus on the need for Scotland to prioritise exports, wealth and jobs. We see a widespread determination, shared by our partners in the Scottish Government and its agencies, to promote that agenda.
As Scotland’s largest business network, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce stands ready to play its part. Our initiatives ranging from increased international B2B trade links – for example through our engagement with our network of world-wide Chambers – to a strengthening engagement with Westminster lawmakers. We also have plans to promote a better understanding of the power of ecommerce, a specialist area where Scotland performs worse than all other parts of the UK. This B2B-dominated marketplace is just one example of how a lack of specialist skills is preventing our SMEs entering new markets, creating new jobs, and growing our economy. We plan to move fast to identify where the deficiencies are and to help sort them out.
Last year’s debate over Air Passenger Duty, where a cut has long been advocated by Scottish business groups, show clearly that there is more work to be done in 2016 in influencing how politicians regard the role of enterprise in the context of wider Scottish society. We expect all parties at least to consult on, or at least to consider economic priorities before taking political positions such as opposition to APD reduction.
As well as making our voice heard in the run up to the Scottish Parliamentary elections in May, in the political realm, our concern is focused on the current Scottish Government’s Draft Budget and its implications for the next parliament.
We were disappointed that the Scottish Government looked to businesses to provide more tax revenue by proposing a doubling of the Business Rates supplement paid by firms with larger premises. This decision looks set to break the link between Business Rates in Scotland and England and thus to negate the Scottish Government’s claim that Scotland offers the most competitive Business Rates package in the UK.
The Parliament that is elected in May will acquire an unprecedented array of tax making powers, giving it far greater control over its own revenues and far more flexibility over how these taxes are applied. The big question that those seeking to wield these powers is this: Will they make Scotland a better place to do business and will they thus maximise the revenue needed to fund the increasingly heavy demands on our vital social services?
Throughout 2016, we will argue relentlessly that politicians must do nothing that stands in the way of nurturing profitable business, as only by encouraging enterprise can our shared social aims be achieved. However it is constituted, we pledge to work with a new Parliament that sees business as a partner, not as a target, as only this way can Scotland create the jobs, wealth and exports that will deliver prosperity and essential support to all our citizens.
In 2016 and beyond, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce stand ready to help turn familiar rhetoric on these themes into reality. We wish everyone a happy and a prosperous New Year.