Scotland independence uncertainty 'risk to investment'

image captionMr Naish cautions that firms may be unsure about investing

The planned independence referendum is an additional risk that adds to the costs of investing in Scotland, it has been claimed.

The warning comes from Malcolm Naish, who stepped down as chairman of the Scottish Property Federation last week.

He said investors would hold off on decisions until there was more clarity about Scotland's political future.

The Scottish government has called for critics to provide examples of those investors who are cautious.

Mr Naish also warned against moves by the Scottish government to increase tax on supermarkets and to remove rebates on commercial properties that are lying empty.

The comments add to the concerns raised about renewable power investment in Scotland by energy analysts at Citigroup, later contested by a rival analyst.

There have also been claims from the Chancellor, George Osborne, and by Danny Alexander, the Treasury Secretary, that investors are being put off investment by uncertainty over Scotland's constitutional future.

The Scottish government countered with a list of those multi-national companies that have invested in Scotland recently, and called for examples of those investors who are cautious.

Speaking on the Business Scotland programme on BBC Radio Scotland, Mr Naish - who is also a head of real estate at Scottish Widows Investment Partnership in Edinburgh - stressed that the SPF was not against or for independence, but that political and economic uncertainty increases investment risk, and that equates to cost.

"To the extent there is no clarity around what question might be asked or what the outcome of any decision might be, then I think we would see investors being more cautious because it's very difficult for them to accurately price the risk into the investment," he said.

Store 'closures'

Asked about two proposals in the draft Scottish government budget, Mr Naish said the impact of adding £40m per year to the tax bill on large retailers selling alcohol and tobacco could lead them to drop one of those product categories.

Responding to Scottish government claims that the tax represents only 0.1% of the large retailers' turnover, he said they are efficient at turnover and do not make large profit margins.

"If a store is only marginally profitable, any further costs like this might mean either they won't build new stores where they're doubtful about profitability, or they might close stores that might become unprofitable in the future," Mr Naish said.

On the plans to remove rebates on office and retail property that is lying empty, the property investment specialist doubted it would act as an incentive to landlords to do more to find tenants.

He said a similar move in England led, in some cases, to buildings being demolished to avoid payment of the rates.

He added: "It acts as a disincentive to speculative development. If you build a building other than the immediate holiday you have when that building becomes ready for occupation, in today's market, it may take a number of years to become fully let."

Draft budget

Similar criticisms of the retail and rates rebate plans have been voiced by the Scottish Chambers of Commerce.

And in a submission to Holyrood's economy, energy and tourism committee, the British Council of Shopping Centres has said: "Investors will tend to shun areas with higher specific property taxes in favour of more profitable locations with lower taxes."

It said the lack of consultation and analysis on the supermarket levy "sets a highly undesirable precedent" that will be a warning to investors about possible tax hikes in future - "thus further undermining the attractiveness of Scotland as a place to invest".

The draft budget aims to raise £30m next year and £40m for each of the next two years, as a public health levy aimed at shops with a rateable value of more than £300,000.

You can hear the interview with Malcolm Naish on Business Scotland, BBC Radio Scotland, at 10.00 on Sunday 27 November, and after that on iPlayer and by free download

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