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30 July 2014, 06:08
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% 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 trade with the rest of the UK are businesses' main concerns, according to the survey.
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%) of those questioned highlighted potential changes to the tax regime as being important to them while about a quarter (24.8%) raised the issue of a possible change in currency if Scotland votes for independence.
Meanwhile, 21.9% 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.
Across the UK, the survey found under-investment has left many businesses dealing with a skills deficit and ageing IT infrastructure.
More than a third (36%) of the 498 UK executives quizzed ranked people skills as their number one investment priority for the short to medium term, with one in five respondents saying investment in new technology and machinery was vital.
Almost six out of ten (58%) of businesses said that they were planning to increase their workforce in the next 12 months, with just a third saying they would keep workforce levels unchanged.
Overall, 86% of businesses expected to increase their turnover this year, with 81% believing their profitability will also improve.
Mr Anderson commented: "There is an increasing optimism among the UK business community which has indicated a gradual rather than explosive approach to their investment plans this year.
"Many businesses are feeling that under-investment in staff during the downturn has led to a skills deficit and the war for talent is most definitely back. The solution is not as simple as going out and rehiring talent.
"The right people are not always available and competition is tough for the best hires. Businesses may continue to struggle to find the talent they need, especially in highly-skilled areas.''
He added: "Having survived the recession, profitable growth is the number one priority for UK business.
"Their focus is on technological change and its impact on markets and having the right people in the right roles.
"Forward-thinking companies are the ones that recognise that these two factors are linked. Effective investment in technology infrastructure helps with the optimal use of resources and increased margins.
"It is encouraging news that companies are now ready to seek new opportunities and have the confidence to be able to invest in the technology and people that they need to achieve their growth ambitions.
"However, as starting salaries and staff costs have started to rise for the first time in years, it could ultimately mean that while profits increase, for many businesses profitability could indeed fall.''
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% 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.
"Alex Salmond wants us to put that at risk on the strength of nothing more than his empty promises. We should say no thanks to separation in September.''
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.''