Our Head of Public Affairs Mark Stephenson has been speaking to BDaily about the EU Referendum and what it means for businesses, particularly in the North East. Here is what he had to say:
“For business confidence, investment, growth and freedom of trade there is only one way to vote – and that’s to stay in the EU. Divorcing ourselves significantly reduces the UK’s attractiveness to investors, including the large multinationals who seek entry to our region because they deem it attractive.
“Manufacturing giants Nissan and Hitachi are in favour of the UK remaining in the European Market and there is a reason for this. Likewise, the majority of businesses polled in every survey favour us remaining in the UK.
“Leaving would be disproportionately harmful to our clients’ operations in the UK nations and regions. Add to this exporters relying on the access provided by EU membership to a common market of over 500m consumers, and it is clear our economy is better off in.
“Devolution of policy and regulatory power to the nations and regions is now embedded in some areas and emerging in others. The PM’s deal with EU leaders ensures that the UK can take its place in the EU on terms we are comfortable with, without impacting negatively on other member states. The deal is not perfect, nor is the EU, but it serves us well.
“If we want to make our own decisions in the North East, devolution will continue to benefit from EU membership. Everyone interested in job and wealth creation, must play our part in communicating the importance of voting to remain EU members. All businesses are familiar with risk. We will opt for risk if there is reward but only with an evidence based plan. We have no such plan – Brexit is not bankable.”
Read the full B-Daily EU Referendum North East Business Round Up Here
Invicta Public Affairs’ Director Mark Cummings has argued last Thursday’s election results show a very fragmented picture and point to a new reality for British politics. Where in the past we would have seen a uniform sweep across local, national and devolved elections, the differential nature of voting throughout the UK now means far less political certainty.
Invicta Public Affairs has 15 years experience advising businesses across a range of sectors in Scotland, helping to navigate the often complex regulatory frameworks. The firm uses it’s expertise and experience in working with devolved Government to assist businesses throughout the UK in successfully navigating the challenges and opportunities that go hand in hand with greater decentralisation of powers.
Reflecting on the implications of Thursday’s results Director of Invicta Public Affairs Mark Cummings explained:
“We are currently in a period of significant political change. We see an electorate energised by the upcoming EU referendum and this is not necessarily good for businesses. The increase in support for UKIP in England and particularly Wales this week points to at least another 1-2 months of further political uncertainty as the referendum remains too close to call.”
While the results of the English Local Elections were largely unremarkable, Mr Cummings argues we are likely to see further fragmentation of voting patterns in England over the next few years as the planned devolution of powers to city regions becomes a reality. He explains the risks:
“There is still little certainty as to the expected political makeup of these devolved bodies or how they would operate. The truth is we don’t know how voters will react when asked to vote for a regional mayor but our experience working with devolved government suggests to us it will deviate from traditional voting patterns.
“As is the case with the EU referendum and the threat of a further vote for Scottish Independence, the lack of certainty engendered by these proposed changes ultimately discourages businesses from making investments and will stymie growth in the areas impacted.”
The results last week in Scotland on the other hand seem to signal an unexpected period of much needed political stability. He continued:
“The SNP’s failure to secure an overall parliamentary majority means they are far less likely to seek to push through a further independence referendum during this parliament. Without the necessary backing from MSPs they would struggle to get enough support for such a vote.
“This is excellent news for businesses in Scotland; it has reached a period of relative political normality and the leadership can now look forward to bringing in their programme of Government without the constitutional wrangling that dogged the previous Parliament.”
In recent weeks Scottish party leaders have clashed over their proposed policies on tax reform during live televised debates ahead of the Holyrood elections. Education is another prominent issue which seems to be dividing the parties and is expected to play a central role in the campaign discourse.
This new focus on policy may be for some a welcome break from arduous and long running debates over constitutional matters and with manifestos due in the coming week, the parties are honing their key messages.
There is a strong possibility the SNP will win an overall majority for a second time, and form a Government for the third. Indeed it is difficult to see where they would likely drop votes in any meaningful quantity.
Labour and the Conservatives meanwhile are locked in a battle for second place, one that Labour really must be seen to have won convincingly if it is to retain any legitimacy north of the border. However, the fact that it is even up for debate is more down to Labour’s demise in Scotland rather than any great national swing in support towards the Conservatives.
The smaller parties with existing seats in Holyrood, the Lib Dems and the Greens are also in a tussle, namely to be the fourth largest party and ensure they do actually win a seat. The Lib Dems go into the election with 5 seats from 2011 compared to the Greens’ 2. Any slight change in percentage of the vote share could seriously impact the electoral fortunes for either of these two parties.
Below we take an at a glance look at the 5 main party’s election pledges through the lens of the 2 prominent campaign issues; tax & education.
Leader: Nicola Sturgeon
Number of seats won in 2011: 64
Tax: Nicola Sturgeon has thus far resisted the calls to reduce the burden of austerity by taxing the richer more, leaving rates largely in line with the rest of the UK and arguing no significant changes are necessary. Instead Sturgeon argues that there is no mechanism in place to stop high earners simply moving south of the border in the event of a tax hike and that a policy of a 50p tax rate would leave Scotland worse off.
Education: The SNP has previously confirmed in an address to the Scottish Parliament that the SNP plans to double government-funded childcare to 30 hours a week as well as re-committing to free university education in Scotland. This is an area where the SNP is vulnerable from opposition criticism with official statistics showing declining levels of literacy among students leaving primary and secondary school education.
Leader: Kezia Dugdale MSP
Number of seats won in 2011: 38
Tax: Labour has committed to an immediate 1p rise in income tax setting itself apart from the SNP and Conservatives. The increase would leave higher-rate taxpayers out of pocket and give low earners a rebate. It has also pledged to scrap council tax in favour of a tax based on property value.
Education: Labour will also focus on education having been very critical of the SNP’s handling of the education system. The proposed changes to the tax system will see the additional revenue from the higher those earning more than £150,000 a year will protect schools from cuts and increase investment.
Leader: Ruth Davidson
Number of seats won in 2011: 16
Tax: While Labour, the Greens and Lib Dem are all proposing some kind of income tax increase, if only for the higher earners, and with the SNP looking on course to stick with status quo on revenue raised through taxation, it is left to the Conservative party to present a taxation alternative. They are proposing to lower income tax where possible, reducing the overall tax burden. However, this message has been dented somewhat by criticism of further proposals to introduce university and prescription fees which have dubbed ‘hidden taxes’.
Education: The Conservatives have highlighted the fall in standards presided over, as they see it, by the SNP Government. Ruth Davidson’s party have pledged that their education policy will be steered with a view to reversing this trend. During the 2nd TV debate however, the Scottish Conservative leader spoke of her intentions introduce a £1,500 annual charge for a four-year Scottish degree, arguing the SNP had paid for free university tuition by cutting thousands of college places.
Scottish Liberal Democrats
Leader: Willie Rennie
Number of seats won in 2011: 5
Tax: The Lib Dems have announced they plan to increase the basic and higher rates of income tax. Their proposals are very similar to Labour’s but have received far less publicity. They have however pledged to spend the £475 million per year raised through tax reform on education.
Education: They have argued the revenue collected from the additional income tax would be used to help fund pre school childcare, introduce a Scottish Pupil Premium to help close the attainment gap, and ensure students leave education with skills employers demand.
Co-Conveners: Patrick Harvie and Maggie Chapman
Number of seats won in 2011: 2
Tax : The Greens are expected unveil reforms to the income tax system in their manifesto with plans to raise income tax to 60p for the very highest earners. The changes would come into effect once the appropriate powers over tax rates and bands has been devolved to Holyrood in April 2017. They are also looking at scrapping council tax in favour of a ‘progressive’ system of local taxation based on wealth.
Education: The Greens argue their tax policy would raise £331 million additional funding to invest in public services than the SNP’s income tax plans. They point to this revenue when discussing public services funding. They have highlighted the pressure put on schools through the SNP’s programme of cuts and pledge to use their tax changes to make a more equal society.
Invicta Director Mark Cummings welcomes Lobbying Bill against backdrop of greater powers for Holyrood
Mark Cummings, founder and director of Invicta Public Affairs and leading business advisor in Scotland has welcomed the decision by MSP’s in March to unanimously support the Lobbying (Scotland) Bill.
Against a backdrop of increased devolution of powers through the Scotland Bill Mr Cummings believes the time was right to revisit the issue of lobbying and bring Scotland in line with the rest of the UK in terms of regulation. Speaking about the new bill Mr Cummings commented:
“As the Scottish Parliament gains more powers to govern its own affairs, so too the lobbying industry must step up and ensure it is held to the highest professional and ethical standards. As a business we very much welcome Parliament’s timely decision. We have long supported the creation of a statutory register of lobbyists in Scotland, as we support the existing UK Register of Lobbyists.”
Looking at the detail of the bill, Mr Cummings welcomed the Government’s suggestion that the definition of lobbying should not include electronic communication such as email. Electronic communications are often unsolicited and until they have been responded to or acted upon, could not in themselves constitute as lobbying activity. Commenting Mr Cummings explained:
“It would be very difficult and no doubt expensive to assess which electronic communication had or had not been acted upon. However, over regulating to ensure all communications are covered by the legislation would only damage the legitimacy of the register.”
While welcoming the broad agreement, Mr Cummings remains critical of a some aspects of the deal, citing the need to strike a balance between transparency and proportionality. Although the bill stops short of classifying all contact with an MSP as lobbying, anyone engaging on behalf of a third party or about matters not relating to the interests of the individual’s constituency will still have to declare their activities.
This, Mr Cummings argues, is far too broad and risks putting an unreasonable regulatory burden on small to medium sized businesses and employers wishing to legitimately engage with MSPs outside their own constituency.
Further to this, the terms of the bill may actually make it harder for the wider industry to be transparent. Ministers in Westminster publish their diaries and these are cross referenced by journalists and campaign groups with the declared public affairs activity of registered lobbyists.
In order that the same level of oversight take place in Scotland the diary of each and every single MSP will have to be interrogated alongside the declarations from registered lobbyists. Far from improving transparency, this will muddy the waters further still with far too much data to effectively analyse.
It is an important time for the Scottish Parliament and ensuring access to the decision makers is appropriately regulated will be key to protecting the reputation of the institution. Increasingly, these arguments will also apply to the Welsh Assembly and this may be something they choose to examine during the next Parliament. Reflecting on the bill Mr Cummings comments:
“While the bill does not perhaps fully address every aspect of lobbying activity in Scotland it is important Parliament was able to unanimously agree that a Lobbying register is a necessary addition to existing checks and balances within a functioning democracy.”
One of Scotland’s leading business advisors has warned of serious repercussions for investment if the UK votes to leave the European Union.
Mark Cummings, Managing Director of Invicta Public Affairs, played a pivotal role in advising inward investors entering the Scottish and wider UK market from the likes of France, Germany, Netherlands, Italy and Spain. Under his stewardship, Invicta has advised over 150 businesses throughout the UK and beyond on projects worth in excess of £2 billon.
Cummings has added his voice to the growing list of business leaders, who believe the UK’s economic growth would be significantly impacted, should people vote to leave the EU in the June Referendum.
He said: “Divorcing from the EU would significantly reduce the UK’s attractiveness, from a foreign direct investment perspective, to large multi national companies who seek entry to our market because they deem it to be stable. Our clients tell us it would be disproportionately harmful to their operations in nations and regions across the UK. Added to this, exporting businesses rely on the access provided by EU membership to a common market of over 500m consumers.
“While it is true that London and the south may maintain their economic outlook by operating unhindered in the global market place most parts of the UK, especially those reliant on exporting to consumer markets, would suffer the risk of reduced investment and loss of jobs. Taken on top of continued UK policy uncertainty in areas such as renewables support, the cumulative impact could be incredibly damaging to our economic prospects.”
Manufacturing giants in the traditional industrial heartland of the North East of England including Nissan and Hitachi and Scottish engineering giants the Weir Group have echoed these concerns coming out strongly in favour of the UK voting to remain in the European Market
Cummings added: “The devolution of policy and regulatory power to the nations and regions of the UK is now embedded in some areas and emerging in others. The Prime Minister’s deal with EU leaders ensures that the UK can take its rightful place in the EU on terms we are comfortable with without impacting on the wishes of other member states.
“The devolved areas of the UK, be they nations or regions, will continue to benefit enormously from EU membership and we must all play our part in communicating this message to the public at large who have a vested interest in the job and wealth creation that EU membership enables.”