Wednesday 26 January 2011

Baker - not fit to hold office

An Aberdeenshire pensioner alleged she was sexually assaulted and named her alleged attacker.  The police and the Procurator Fiscal did their jobs and the suspect was being brought to trial.  Following the Cadder ruling, however, the Crown Office concluded that there was now insufficient evidence to proceed and has closed the case.  The Cadder ruling is better explained by a solicitor type but it necessitated a fundamental change in police procedures and it changed the rules on what evidence is allowable in a case.  It also led to a piece of legislation going through Parliament as emergnecy legislation.

None of this, I take it, matters a damn to Barbara Riddel who was attacked except that it means that the man she identified as her attacker cannot be brought to justice.  I have sympathy for her, she has suffered in a way that I cannot begin to understand - an invasion of her person.  Her case came, though, at a juncture where the police procedure in the case was cut across by the ruling.  The Cadder ruling was, very simplistically, based on the European Convention on Human rights and said that a suspect's human rights were infringed if he (or she) was interviewed by police without a solicitor being present - or at least a prosecution could not rest upon evidence thus gained.

The to and fro of the rights and wrongs of the Cadder case and all cases like those of the assault against Ms Riddel might be batted back and forth for a long time but it was the comments of Labour's Shadow Justice person Richard Baker MSP in the story.  He said:

"This started with not having a bent banana and all that stupid kind of thing, but now they have got onto the laws of Britain they shouldn't be allowed to change them whatsoever."

For any politician to compare the distress and human emotion involved in a case of sexual assault to trade rules is shocking to begin with.  Conflating human rights with trade rules is also fairly bad, but the scale of the incompetence in his one UKIP-like statement is quite shocking. 

To begin with, he should understand that section 29 of the Scotland Act means that any legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament has to be compliant with the Convention Rights - the Scotland Act was drafted by a Minister of his own party.

Convention Rights in the Scotland Act has the same meaning as in the Human Rights Act 1998 - brought in by a Government of his own party to enshrine the ECHR in UK law (quite rightly, in my opinion).

The ECHR was not a child of the European Union, it came from the Council of Europe - a different organisation.

The EU never banned bent bananas.

The worst of it all is his lack of concern for the woman involved combined with his lack of understanding of the way that the law is changing and his ignorant, knee-jerk, xenophobic narrow vision.  He's simply not fit to hold office.

Friday 14 January 2011

The 'Tesco Tax'

Much hullaballoo, flim-flam and fuss has been occasioned by John Swinney's reasonable proposal to ask businesses with a rateable value in excess of £35,000 to pay a little more in their rates.  It has been dubbed the Tesco Tax by some so I'll adopt that heuristic just for the sake of sweetness and light.  Some would have you believe that this policy will bring economic devastation to Scotland, that retailers will leave in droves, that the chill winds of fair taxation having blown round the skirts of frightened supermarkets will echo forevermore through abandoned shopping centres and out-of-town mammon factories, even that it is (careful now) anti-Glasgow; the greatest sin of all.

We're told that supermarkets, shopping centres and large retailers in general will up sticks and leave (no-one seems willing to mention the businesses which will be affected which are not in retail, but hey-ho).  This position is, of course, quite frankly daft; retailers will open where their customers are - it's kind of how they operate, there's no point in having a shop where no-one shops and large retailers are always looking for untapped markets to slide into.  But others have written about that and you should read their wise words - I particularly savoured the bit in Lesley Riddoch's piece that noted "Scotland has more supermarket floor space per head of the population than anywhere in Britain and probably Europe" - for my part I think I'll look at the proposal which has caused so much supermarket angst.

It's a proposal to add 0.7% onto the poundage rate of larger businesses.  "Why 0.7%?" you might ask - and that would lead us to a very interesting point.  The SNP Scottish Government has committed to keeping the poundage rate in Scotland at or below the rate in England for the lifetime of this Parliament; the non-domestic rate poundage in Scotland is 40.7p in the pound (40.7% of your rateable value is your rates bill), the poundage rate in England is 40.7p for small businesses and 41.4p for standard businesses so the small rise in Scotland for very large businesses will bring the rate into line with the standard rate charged in England.  Our medium-sized businesses will continue to be better off and our small businesses (with the small business bonus) will continue to be much better off.  Why, exactly, would this equalisation of the rates for large businesses north and south of the Rio Tweed result in a desperate caravan of refugee supermarkets trudging wearily south?

If you think that proves the case, I've got a little more icing for the cake.  London charges higher rates.  London charges an extra 0.4p on each rate - 41.8p on the standard rate and 41.1p on the small business rate (you'll find the figures at the bottom of the VOA multipliers page) small businesses in London pay higher rates than large businesses in Scotland.

I think it begs a question - if London charges more in rates on most businesses than Scotland does and substantially more on small businesses and the rest of England also charges more but still less than London then why, using the logic of those predicting doom for Scotland under John Swinney's proposal, is business not flocking out of London into the rest of England and flooding from England into Scotland?  The truth is, of course, that non-domestic rates, the poundage and the actual cost per trading unit, are only some of the considerations that businesses make in determining where to set up - many, many others apply.  Indeed, non-domestic rates are a very small consideration for very large retailers.  They will squeal about any increase in taxation, any additional regulation, any requirement put upon them to act like a responsible part of society (although they will not hesitate to call on the services which they are so reluctant to contribute to - roads to ease deliveries and customer access, police to protect their properties, street lighting to make their premises more appealing to customers, cleansing and so on) but they will stay in situ so long as it is commercially advantageous for them to do so.  Large retailers are not overly burdened by a great weight imposed by non-domestic rates, they truly are not.

Small businesses face rates which are a far larger percentage of their turnover, a far greater burden for them to carry, and that's why the SNP Scottish Government introduced the Small Business Bonus.  To be absolutely fair to those in Whitehall, there is some rates relief for small businesses in England but it is, if I may utilise the vernacular, piss-poor.

Far from the proposal to ask large businesses to pay an extra seven tenths of a penny more in rates being one which will see economic destruction in Scotland, the idea is almost akin to progressive taxation.  Those large retailers and other businesses with business premises with rateable values over £35,000 will pay a little extra (just taking them up to what they would have been paying had they been in England) to help fund the services they use while small businesses get a little help to survive and thrive - helping to grow the economy.  Add in the fact that the SNP Scottish Government has frozen Council Tax year on year, making sure that people have some money left in their pockets to spend in the large retailers as well as other places, and you might have thought that the retailers would be keen to welcome the actions of the Scottish Government - good for people, good for business and good for jobs.

It's almost like there's an election coming, isn't it?

Thursday 6 January 2011

Who's not in the CBI?

Since I've already questioned the validity of CBI Scotland in commenting on Scottish business affairs, I thought that it might be worthwhile having a look at Scottish companies which aren't members of the CBI to see whether I was perhaps being unfair, to see whether it was, perhaps, la creme de la creme of Scottish businesses that CBI Scotland represented, the bluest of blue chip companies.  There is no definitive register of Scottish companies that I can find; I can't get hold of the IDBR and Companies House doesn't let you search on company location so I may have missed some businesses but these are a few that I found that I think we can say are fairly successful Scottish companies who are not members of CBI Scotland:

Arnold Clark - Glasgow (I think) motor vehicle dealer with substantial business.
Aggreko - Headquartered in Glasgow, operates around the world.
Axis-Shield - Dundee company operates internationally.
ASCo - Aberdeen, global operations.
British Polythene Industries - Greenock, operates internationally.
CJ Lang - Dundee, operates fairly large shopping operation.
DP&L - Dundee, shipping mainly, now includes travel and property businesses.
AG Barr - the makers of Irn Bru!
DC Thomson - the printers of the Beano.
Baxters - the soup people.
Johnston Press - Newspaper types.
Tunnocks - even in French it looks like a tasty company.
John Menzies - biggest paperboy in town.
Keyline - Glasgow based builder's merchants.
MacFarlane Group - Glasgow again, operates internationally.
Miller Group - Edinburgh housebuilder, biggest in UK.
Morrison Construction - like Bob the Builder but much, much bigger.
Motherwell Bridge - you'll never guess where this company is based but it operates all over the world.
Wiseman Dairies - provides almost one third of all the milk consumed in the UK - from East Kilbride!
SSE - energetic bunch
Scottish Investment Trust - investment managers with a decent size of portfolio.
Stagecoach - transport all over the world.
Abbot Group - Aberdeen based, works around the world.
Tennents - terrible adverts but still a substantial company.
Aberdeen Asset Management - Aberdeen company (surprising, eh?) with £178.7 billion of assets under management and advice; that's quite a bit.
Pelamis - wave tamers.
Alexander Dennis - international bus builders.
Linn - fantastic sounds
Schuh - Livingstone company, rather successful in the footwear area.
Simclar Group - around the world from Dunfermline.
Visioncall - seeing clearly from Cambuslang.

This isn't an exhaustive list, obviously, nor even a great chunk of Scotland's businesses.  The point I'm hoping to demonstrate is that CBI Scotland doesn't represent Scottish businesses, not even a substantial proportion of Scottish businesses.  Some might try to argue that the best of Scotland's businesses are members of CBI Scotland but I'll contend that these companies listed here are every bit as good as the companies listed yesterday - and there are thousands more.  Being a member of CBI Scotland neither marks them as leaders nor as anything else, merely members of a club - a club which  is not representative of Scottish business and whose spokesman doesn't seek to represent their views, just to get himself a headline or two.

As I said yesterday, the contrast with the FSB is marked.  That organisation gets fewer headlines because it does not view getting the headline as a good in itself, it does good work and gets benefits for its members by making informed comment and by lobbying all parts of the active Scottish political world.  The quality of a boat isn't determined by the turbulence of its wake - and often the turbulence indicates a problem.  If I were running one of those companies that contributes thousands of pounds to CBI Scotland I might be wondering at the moment what, exactly, I get for my money.  How does it advantage member companies for Mr McMillan to indulge his own ego and pursue a narrow political agenda?

Perhaps they get good political advice?  I might look into that.

Wednesday 5 January 2011

CBI Scotland - who does it speak for?

I was intrigued by the latest bombast and nonsense from Iain McMillan of CBI Scotland in his New Year message when he criticised the Scottish Government's pursuit of a policy that was in the manifesto on which it got elected - independence.  Mr McMillan's anti-SNP politics have been played out in public in the past and his membership of the Calman Commission and Labour's literacy commission have called his impartiality into question but I thought it might be worthwhile taking the time to look past the blinkers that he wears and look at who it is that he actually represents; of which tribe is this man a tribune?

Scotland has 296,780 business enterprises - up 1,400 in a year and up 17,290 since the SNP came to power; a performance during a recession that exceeded the performance of the previous three years when times were good - of which 1,500 have more than 500 employees and a further 3,655 have between 50 and 249 employees - 4,155 substantial Scottish businesses - 2,265 of the medium sized enterprises are headquartered in Scotland and 430 of the large ones; that's 2,695 substantial businesses not only operating in Scotland but headquartered here (an increase in percentages from previous years) - and then there are all the small Scottish-owned enterprises to add - another 146,065.  You would think that CBI Scotland, whose Director gets so much media attention, would have a fairly big percentage as members.

CBI Scotland doesn't publish its membership online, more's the pity, but the CBI has a business directory which you can browse at your leisure, and I did just that.  You don't have to be a member of the CBI to get listed so not every business listed will be a member but I reckon that the number of businesses which would pay for the listing without being members would be fairly small so I went right through the entire directory and noted which ones had Scottish addresses and found that CBI Scotland's membership is, at most, 90.  That's not a typo, it's 90 - nine zero.

Of that 90, though, 3 are universities, 1 is the commercial arm of a university, 9 are quangoes or publically owned companies (TIE and SECC are the companies), 8 are trade bodies, 1 is a BID district, 6 are branches or subsidiaries of other companies, and only 62 are Scottish companies.  62 out of the 148,760 Scottish companies - 0.04%.  I'll try to be fair and acknowledge that it's unlikely that many small enterprises would think of joining the CBI (although there is some evidence that this is not strictly true) and I'll just take the larger and medium sized enterprises - 62 out of 2,695 or 2.3% - hardly speaking for the vast swathes of Scottish business opinion.  Additionally, I know that directors and owners of some of these companies are SNP supporters or have already expressed their appreciation of the work that has been done by the SNP Scottish Government.

The Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland, by contrast, has more than 20,000 members and we hardly hear from them although they appear to put out more comment than CBI Scotland.  Could it be because FSB Scotland contributes positively and meaningfully to public debate in Scotland, quietly winning support and benefits for its members and that doesn't make for good stories while the rather more florid utterances from the CBI do?

For everyone's delight and delectation and for the purposes of sharing information, here is the full list:

Robert Gordon University
Glasgow Caledonian University
College of Arts and Social Sciences (part of Dundee University)
GU Holdings Ltd (commercial arm of Glasgow University)

Quangoes and similar
Skills Development Scotland
Scottish Enterprise
Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework Partnership
Investors in People Scotland
Business Stream (part of Scottish Water)
SECC (91% owned by Glasow Council)
TIE (Edinburgh's favourite tramline layer)

Trade Bodies
Food Trade Association Management
Graphic Enterprise Scotland
Homes for Scotland
Publishing Scotland
Scottish Building Federation
The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland
The Scotch Whisky Association

BID district
Essential Edinburgh

Branches or Subsidiaries
AG Holdings
Conoco Phillips
ISS Facility Services Ltd
Weber Shandwick

Companies (split into business sectors)
Banks and financial inc insurance and investment
Airdrie Savings Bank
Alliance Trust
Clydesdale Bank
Royal Bank of Scotland Group
Standard Life
Weir Group
Imes Group Holdings
Balmoral Group Holdings
Hydrasun Ltd
PR & Consultants, etc
BiP Solutions
Chance Associates
Core Solutions Group
Glen Abbot Ltd
James Barr
Laura Gordon Associates
Liddell Thomson
Millstream Associates
Munro Consulting
SI Associates
Gupta Partnership
Energy, Oil and Marine
Aquamarine Power
Cairn Energy
Scottish Power
Wood Group Management Services
Ledingham Chalmers
Maclay, Murray & Spens
Morton Fraser
Shepherd and Wedderburn
Elphinstone Holdings
Lochay Investments
Townhead Properties
Construction & Supplies
WF Watt (Contracts)
Miller Group
Stewart Milne Group
McAlpine & Co
Mactaggart & Mickel
The rest
Devro (food wrappers)
Havelock Europa (furniture)
Henry Winning & Co (string & twine)
ICS (education)
John G Russell (transport)
Kube Networds (telecom)
M Computer Technologies
Memex Technologies (electronic shop equipment)
Morris Leslie Group (various)
Scottish Leather Group
STV Group
Coverdale Organisation (training)
Edrington Group (distillers)
Skene Group (hotels)
Tomatin Distillery
Tullis Russell Group (paper)

So there you have it - the membership of CBI Scotland.