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NECC Column - Our friends in the North
1:00am Thursday 29th August 2013 in Business News
JUDGING by the media calls I’ve received lately, there is a sudden rush of interest in Scotland about North-East businesses’ views on independence, writes Ross Smith, NECC director of policy.
Partly it’s been inspired by the Borderlands report commissioned by the Association of North East Councils, which analysed the impact of Scotland’s changing economy and politics on its neighbours south of the border.
The succession of interviews left me in a bit of quandary about what to say, given that North East businesses clearly don’t have a vote in next year’s referendum and our ability to influence those who do is probably limited.
My slight concern was that any comments might have the opposite effect to what I intended. In other words, if we explain where certain outcomes might put the North of England at a competitive disadvantage, it could inspire some voters in Scotland to support them!
There are concerns over the way Scotland might use greater powers. Lower corporation tax is one possibility, while reduced air passenger duty could have an impact on our international flights.
But as Borderlands pointed out, there are at least as many opportunities as threats that come from being on Scotland’s doorstep.
We are each other’s nearest market and have much more to gain from improving trade across the border than from a scramble for marginal competitive advantage.
That’s why I travelled up to Scotland to meet both Aberdeen and Edinburgh Chambers last week, where there is great interest in strengthening ties with our members.
For example, links with the energy sector around Aberdeen are obvious and there is scope to develop these further. And there is potential to benefit both regions through a coordinated approach to tourism between firms in Edinburgh and the North-East.
Perhaps a bigger concern than independence would be further lop-sided devolution, where Scotland has flexibility to tailor policies to its own economy while the North-East remains stuck with decisions made in Westminster. That would make it harder for our region to make the most of such connections.
However, North-East businesses have always proved themselves capable of adapting to circumstances and I’m sure our members will grasp the opportunities that emerge from whatever decision Scotland takes next year.
After all, we’re already the best exporting region in the country. So if sales to Edinburgh and Aberdeen start counting as international trade, I’m convinced we’re up to the task.
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