As I See It: Terry Murden
The squabbling in politics is not making life easy for Britain’s army of analysts, forecasters and other crystal ball gazers. Optimistic reports from the economics frontline declare we are heading for a post-Brexit golden age, while the pessimists tell a more cataclysmic tale. ‘We’re all doomed!” they say. So, who’s right?
According to a survey this morning from BDO, confidence in Britain’s services sector has slipped close to recessionary levels, while another survey reveals that pubs enjoyed an uplift in sales last month thanks to the record breaking Bank Holiday sunshine.
Economists at the accountancy firm KPMG have predicted Britain will plunge into its first recession in a decade should the government quit the European Union without a deal… while analysis by BNP Paribas and the Centre for Economics and Business Research has found that Britain’s post-Brexit economy will be transformed by a boom in the science, technology and healthcare industries.
Three years ago the Fraser of Allander Institute predicted Scotland might lose 80,000 jobs as a result of Brexit, but also admitted it could be 30,000. That’s a difference that equates to a mid-sized town.
This forecast helped encourage a Brexit jobs panic. Ian Blackford, the SNP’s excitable Westminster leader, regularly reminds the Commons that Brexit will cost Scotland 100,000 jobs, though I’m sure he would predict a jobs boom if Scotland were to leave the UK.
Not surprisingly, the SNP-led Glasgow City Council’s economists were in gloom-max mood last month warning that £2.35 billion and 38,000 jobs will be lost to the city if Britain crashes out of the EU without a deal.
All this is clouding the more optimistic reports around the Scottish economy. EY’s Item Club last year indicated that Glasgow, far from being a big Brexit loser, was on course to average 2% per year gross value added growth through to 2021, fuelled by expansion in financial services. Barclays Bank has given no indication that Brexit will affect its plan to create 2,500 jobs at Buchanan Wharf in the city.
We should remind ourselves that Scotland is enjoying record numbers in employment and record low levels of unemployment. While Mr Blackford warns of jobs armageddon, his employment minister Jamie Hepburn has been flush with upbeat monthly pronouncements on how the economy is in good shape and facing a skills shortage. Edinburgh is enjoying a tech jobs boom, property prices are rising and the airport is witnessing record levels of business. Inward investment into Scotland remains the highest after London.
The Chartered Governance Institute last month found that 3% of respondents to a survey view exiting the EU as positive, the first time the survey has reported an expression of this sentiment since summer 2017 when 2% took this view.
So do these surveys actually inform or misinform us? Maybe the best tactic is to rely on anecdotal evidence. Gordon McArthur, CEO of Beeks Financial Cloud, a stock market quoted tech firm in Renfrewshire, told me last week: “We have not had one client out of 250 express any interest in moving their business because of Brexit.” Another CEO of a Scottish business I met last week said everyone she had been speaking to had experienced a very busy August.
That’s fairly convincing evidence that Brexit isn’t necessarily the big worry that we keep hearing. Maybe it’s time we took more notice of the comments from those at the coalface.