Will CBI Scotland now get behind Scotland’s interests?

Written by
Tracy Black, director of CBI Scotland

An honest assessment finally from the CBI?

‘… ultimately, policy decided in Westminster will shape whether Scotland can make the most of its natural resources’

From stewartb

This article was triggered by the recent report from Scottish Government’s Advisory Group on Economic Recovery: ‘Towards a robust, resilient wellbeing economy for Scotland’. One of the report’s themes piqued my curiosity: it concerns the relationship between business and the Scottish Government.

In this context, I decided to check out what the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is up to in Scotland nowadays.

An honest assessment of dependency?

The CBI published on its website (13 June 2019) findings from a series of ‘round table’ meetings to “discuss the progress needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland and how this can contribute to the UK’s new net-zero emissions target for 2050” and also “to discuss Scotland’s priorities for decarbonisation”.

Source: https://www.cbi.org.uk/articles/building-a-low-carbon-scotland/

There are several preliminary points to take away from these discussions before the ‘show stopper’:

  • .. the political block on onshore wind from Westminster is hampering progress, and means decarbonising and achieving net-zero will cost consumers more”
  • “there was general agreement that making decarbonisation a priority for Ofgem (a UK government body) would support improved decision making and help remove existing regulatory barriers, such as those hampering the roll-out of domestic and grid-scale battery storage.

The participants in the meetings endorsed the CBI’s campaign for UK-wide net-zero emissions: “The ambition is the right level, but the challenge now is to create the policies and sector-specific pathways to achieve this.” And the report of the meetings adds: “Scotland is well placed to lead this ambition, reflected in its 2045 net-zero target.”  Of course the latter is in line with the recent acknowledgement by the Committee on Climate Change of Scotland’s leading position in decarbonisation,  as already reported by the TuSC.

Source: https://talkingupscotlandtwo.com/2020/06/26/climate-change-scotland-has-led-the-uk/

However then, finally, comes the acknowledgement of Scotland’s dependency when CBI document admits:

“But ultimately, policy decided in Westminster will shape whether Scotland can make the most of its natural resources and support the whole of the UK’s transition to a decarbonised economy.”

Is this honest advocacy?

The CBI wrote to the First Minister on 19 June setting out recommendations for an economic recovery plan – ‘Build back better: CBI proposals for a jobs-rich economic recovery’.

Source: https://www.cbi.org.uk/media-centre/articles/jobs-and-training-must-be-top-priority-for-recovery-cbi-urges-first-minister/

A major aspect of the CBI’s proposal to the Scottish Government for the recovery of Scotland’s economy is – “Invest in the green economy to create new jobs, investment and a more sustainable future”;

It states: “Now is the time to fast forward progress on delivering Scotland’s world leading net zero target and provide global leadership at next year’s COP Summit. By investing in green growth – through both proven and new technologies – government can create jobs now and build a sustainable future. Scotland can use this moment to identify its areas of global competitive advantage and enable investment behind them.”

And in its ‘greenness’ the CBI’s statement just goes on and on: Accelerate the next generation of green infrastructure: Build on existing pilots and partnerships with the private sector to expand the electric vehicle charging network and speed up its deployment through fast-track planning and funding. Support further business investment in low carbon infrastructure projects such as renewables, including wind power and energy from waste sites.

So notwithstanding this – policy decided in Westminster will shape whether Scotland can make the most of its natural resources” – the CBI’s advocacy towards the Scottish Government majors on green issues and realising the economic value of Scotland’s natural resources!

An honest response?

The CBI then provided (22 June) its response to the report of the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery. It included this:

“We also share the ambition to fast-forward green investment and build a more sustainable economy. Greater support for renewables, accelerating the R100 roll-out to supercharge digital infrastructure, and fast-tracking planning and funding to support the deployment of electric vehicles are all essential ways to reduce carbon emissions and make this a green recovery.”

Source: https://www.cbi.org.uk/media-centre/articles/cbi-scotland-responds-to-publication-of-advisory-group-on-economic-recovery-report/

Is the CBI being straight with stakeholders in Scotland when towards the Scottish Government and its actions it is supporting  “the ambition to fast-forward green investment” but it is not making clear at the same time its view that, regardless, “policy decided in Westminster will shape whether Scotland can make the most of its natural resources”?  Is this an honest response?

‘Authentic concern’ of business?

The report of the Scottish Government’s Advisory Group on Economic Recovery (‘Towards a robust, resilient wellbeing economy for Scotland’) states:

“At this time it is particularly important that we make fresh start on the relationship between business and Scottish Government. …. there remains authentic concern expressed more broadly that engagement with Scottish Government needs to be transformed. It is uncontroversial to say that when one party in a relationship says that it’s not working, then it isn’t. But it is also a truism that, commonly, both parties have to adapt to make it work.”  And it adds: “So this report calls for both the private sector and Scottish Government to embrace an opportunity to reset their engagement.”

Source: https://www.gov.scot/publications/towards-robust-resilient-wellbeing-economy-scotland-report-advisory-group-economic-recovery/

I sought in vain for evidence in the report to explain further the source of this “authentic concern” . However, the CBI has ‘previous’ in its relationship with Scotland.

Not easily forgotten

You may recall this sort of output (below) from the CBI in 2014, an organisation which caused some members in Scotland to resign when it sought to register with the Electoral Commission to campaign formally against Scotland’s independence.

As one example of the CBI’s views at the time see this from the FT: https://www.ft.com/content/01d223b8-39b8-11e4-83c4-00144feabdc0

“The president of the CBI, Britain’s leading business lobby, ……. warned of a lost decade of uncertainty if the Yes campaign wins the referendum next week. The uncertainty will last for easily 10 years, Sir Mike (Rake) told the Financial Times in an interview.”

The CBI president went on in terms that still hit home today for their crassness: “Anything like this is almost an indulgent aspiration when what we need [in Europe] is economic growth and jobs, ..” And he added: “We want the Scots, who are very sensible about the European Union, to stay in and contribute to that debate and to keep their votes.” 

And was this not very revealing? “Sir Mike said he believed any possible benefit to Scottish business after independence such as regulatory and tax regimes designed specifically for the region were minimal.”

In the context of concerns about business relations, the CBI president’s comments back in 2014 remain ‘interesting’: “He said that he believed both business and government had been too complacent about the possibility of a vote for independence. But he argued that the CBI itself had not been. We were very clear from the beginning. We asked the right questions, he said. Our statements don’t appear to have had much impact. Some of the blame, he argued, was because of politicians and big business’s lack of credibility with the public. We need to try to get across what business does that’s good for society, to address why the public has lost confidence in business leaders and big business.

Once could over-dose on the use of the term ‘irony’ after reading this from the CBI.

Final thoughts – time for a re-set

Let’s paraphrase the report of the Scottish Government’s Advisory Group on Economic Recovery:

‘At this time it is particularly important that we make a fresh start on the relationship between business as represented by the CBI and Scottish voters. …. there remains authentic concern expressed more broadly that the CBI’s engagement with the people of Scotland needs to be transformed. It is uncontroversial to say that when one party in a relationship says that it’s not working, then it isn’t.”

In terms of the CBI and its members as stakeholders in Scotland, relationships do need re-set. ‘Honest advocacy’ directed towards the Scottish Government and Scotland’s Parliament requires ‘honest’ acknowledgement of Scotland’s economic dependency on Westminster’s policy decisions for as long as Scotland remains, in terms too often used in CBI output, a region of the UK state.

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