By Daniel Hunter
One year before Scottish voters go to the polls to decide whether Scotland should become an independent country, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) is publishing the results of the first major poll measuring the impact of the upcoming referendum on businesses across the United Kingdom.
Just over 2,000 companies responded to the poll, conducted by the BCC in August 2013. 90% of the companies responding to the BCC’s UK-wide survey report that the referendum has had no substantive impact on their business to date.
This figure was remarkably consistent, whether businesses were asked about orders and sales, employment intentions, or investment in plant and premises. 14% of companies reporting no impact specifically stated that they do not have enough information on the referendum, and 17% said it was ‘too early to tell’ whether the referendum would affect their business. Of those reporting no impact, some 68% reported that the majority of their trade was from outside Scotland.
One in 20 businesses surveyed UK-wide (5.3%) reported that the referendum has had negative impacts thus far, and a further 1 out of 100 (1.3%) survey respondents reported positive impacts.
Of the small minority of UK companies surveyed reporting referendum-related impacts to date, the study shows unsurprisingly that these are more pronounced on companies’ Scottish operations. This effect is more pronounced on forward investment. However, the numbers involved are small and remain within the statistical margin for error. Additional research is required over the coming months to draw firmer conclusions.
Finally, business awareness of the referendum was tested amongst businesses based in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, where companies may have been less-exposed to the arguments than those based in Scotland. Fully 95% of business respondents in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland reported awareness of the referendum.
“When major political debates resound in the echo chambers of Westminster, Holyrood and the media, it is important to understand whether businesses feel any real-world impacts as a result. Chambers, as apolitical organisations, are interested in the business effects — not the politics," John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, said.
“One year before Scotland goes to the polls, our business survey shows that the Scottish independence referendum has left most businesses unfazed. The debate has not yet had an appreciable impact on custom, employment or investment for the vast majority of UK companies. Only small numbers of businesses say that the referendum is having an effect, mainly on investment decisions in Scotland itself, which is hardly surprising.
“However, a year is a long time in both politics and economics. We will continue to monitor the impact of the independence debate on business, as this could change significantly both in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. We support the long-standing calls from our colleagues in Scottish Chambers of Commerce for better information and real clarity from both the “yes” and “no” campaigns on what the referendum’s outcomes could mean for business prospects in every nation and region.”
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