The dust from the Covid-induced collapse of the economy has far from settled, but amid the haze of continuing uncertainty there are preliminary signs that Scotland has at least some of the underlying leverage needed to make a meaningful recovery.
Among this was news earlier this week that BGF – the investment company set up in 2011 in the wake of the banking crisis – has some “exciting” Scottish deals in the pipeline for the coming year. This following a hefty increase in the amount of cash deployed north of the Border last year by BGF, to the tune of £60 million.
They aren’t the only investors upping the ante, with Scotland’s strength in certain high-growth sectors – food and drink, energy, and technology among them – proving a draw among those looking to maximise financial returns in a market where interest rates remain, for the time being at least, pitifully low.
The key thing about BGF, though, is they are widely known as what’s called a “patient investor”. Without the pressure for a quick deal to generate the fastest possible return, and with minimal intervention in business operations, firms backed by BGF should in theory have time to build sustainable businesses that will be around for a good deal of time to the benefit of Scotland.
Also heartening was talk earlier this week from accountancy giant EY of “lots of conversations” taking place with established Scottish firms weighing up the possibility of a stock market flotation.
There are risks and costs that come with a listing, but quoted companies also have easier access to raise funds for growth or acquisition opportunities. That’s exactly why Linlithgow-based telecoms testing specialist Calnex decided to take the plunge in October 2020, becoming the first Scottish company to join the London market in more than two years.
A fresh flurry of listings would have wider benefits as well, helping to restore confidence in Scotland as a place for doing business. Such credence has been eroded in recent years as some of the country’s biggest quoted companies – such as ScottishPower, Aggreko and most recently Stagecoach – have lost their independence.
The acquisition of Stagecoach, whereby it is set to be subsumed by National Express, has in fairness not yet gone though. But though the competition watchdog intervened on that deal earlier this week, there is little reason to believe it won’t go ahead.
So these green shoots do hold promise, but they will have to come to fruition in a climate where economic headwinds remain predominant.
Rising costs, staff shortages and supply chain disruptions are all taking their toll on businesses of all sizes. At the same time, inflation is putting a serious squeeze on consumer spending power.
Business editor Ian McConnell says these “very real” issues are being compounded by Brexit: “It goes without saying that UK consumers are in urgent need of relief from the surge of inflation, and anything that gets in the way of that is not a good thing.”
Meanwhile, one of Scotland’s oldest companies has given up on the pound – at least for reporting purposes – as business correspondent Mark Williamson revealed. The venerable John Menzies, which began life as an Edinburgh bookseller in 1833, has decided that from henceforth it will report its results in the US dollar to better reflect the global nature of its business which now specialises in aviation services.