Who owns the best of Scotland?

The state of business in 2009 seems like distant history to those who survived the steepest part of the downturn.

Attention is, understandably, more focussed on the next few months, to see how bumpy it's going to get.

But the Scottish government has today put out the Annual Business Survey from two years ago, which illustrates;

  • that official statistics are too often too late to be of much use
  • and a few interesting facets of the Scottish economy

Drawn from the Office of National Statistics, the Scottish figures suggest a precipitous 11% drop in gross value added between 2008 and 2009. That's much steeper than the official GDP figures.

Oil spike

But the statisticians behind this are keen to stress the problems of comparing between years for the whole economy.

A survey that somehow avoids returns from the banks, public sector and agriculture leaves quite large chunks out of the picture, particularly in a year when the banks were in such a lot of trouble.

And it's reckoned that half of the fall can be explained by the impact of the oil price spike to $147 per barrel, and subsequent fall below $50.

So what can we take out of the survey?

What struck me is how much economic value is added per head from manufacturing in Moray, Falkirk and West Dunbartonshire, when the benefits of whisky and Grangemouth don't feed through into prosperity in those areas.

Also, look how concentrated the country's manufacturers are in a few sectors. Whisky accounted in 2009 for 22% of manufacturing value added in Scotland. Add in food and chemicals, and you're at 40%.

Valuable workers

It's also striking how much more valuable foreign-owned businesses are to Scotland than indigenous ones.

In manufacturing, foreign-owned companies accounted for 36% of value added and 27% of employees.

Per employee, they generated nearly 90% more value than Scottish owned firms - £87,300 to £46,600.

And they generate higher earnings. Labour costs per employee for foreign manufacturers were 50% higher than those controlled in Scotland.

In services, foreign-owned companies generated double the value added per worker, and had labour costs 30% higher.

That all goes to show foreign-owned companies are more efficient and competitive, right?

Wrong. It shows that foreign companies control the most efficient parts of the Scottish economy. The best Scottish operations are more likely to attract foreign investment, and get bought over.

So, it's not all bad. But it's a reminder of how the most important parts of the economy are controlled from elsewhere.

As of last week, Clyde Union Pumps (formerly Weir Pumps) has been added to the long list, and Dundee's diagnostics firm Axis-Shield is resisting a takeover bid from the US - at least at the current bid price.