DEAL activity is showing resilience amid protracted Brexit uncertainty, with foreign investors moving to snap up stakes in Scottish manufacturing and agriculture companies, a veteran financier has declared.

And Gerald McLaughlin, who this week became fast-growing accountancy firm Wylie & Bisset’s first-ever corporate finance partner, said banks are “open for business”, having shown a willingness to back firms in the consolidating healthcare and facilities management sectors.

Mr McLaughlin’s comments came as his career moved full circle with his return to Glasgow-based Wylie & Bisset, having re-joined the firm he qualified with in 2002 before a 14-year spell in corporate finance at Campbell Dallas. His appointment is part of an expansion drive at Wylie & Bisset, which is bidding to build its presence in the UK small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) market by pursuing acquisitions and organic growth.

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Earlier this year the firm, which can trace its history back more than 300 years, took over the business and clients of McLellan Harris, the long-standing practice which had been run by veteran accountant Bob Harris. Wylie & Bisset, led by joint managing partners Donald McKinnon and Ross McLauchlan, said then that it was the first of several deals it hoped to conclude as part of its growth strategy.

Mr McLaughlin, who has advised firms throughout all stages of their life cycles, has been drafted in to develop the firm’s corporate finance offering, noting that accountancy practices are gradually shifting their focus to business advice as basic compliance work becomes automated.

While successive surveys have shown that Brexit uncertainty has weighed heavily on businesses investment, he said there has been “year on year growth in the number of deals and deal values in Scotland in the last two to three years”.

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Mr McLaughlin said: “Perhaps some of the more infrastructure-size deals have been put on hold [because of Brexit]. But in the SME market there does still seem to be a buoyancy, particularly in the lower private equity and corporate banking side.

“I have seen growth in those deal numbers, whether or not it is because people have put deals on hold over the last few years [I am not sure]. But we are seeing [that] in terms of growth capital deals and more general M&A (mergers and acquisitions) work.”

Mr McLaughlin observed that activity has been buoyant in Scotland in sectors such as facilities management and healthcare, which has included deals in optical, dental and pharmacy businesses amid continuing consolidation in those respective markets. And he said there is increasing investment in private businesses from sources overseas. Mr McLaughlin noted: “We have seen some [foreign investment] in agriculture and manufacturing. It has been outwith commercial property – it has been in Scottish and UK trading businesses.”

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Asked to sum up the mood within Scottish business as regards Brexit, he said: “I think there has been so much uncertainty for so long that people have just gone about their normal business. Given that there has not really been a defined date at any given stage, there was no ground zero, so people have had to just continue doing what they are doing.”

Mr McLaughlin said his return to Wylie & Bisset said had been motivated in part by a “slight change and dynamic” at Campbell Dallas following its acquisition by Baldwins Group, part of the international CogitalGroup, in 2017.

He is excited to have joined Wylie & Bisset at an “exciting time” in its development, with the firm having opened an office in Manchester’s financial services district last month.

Wylie & Bisset turned over £6.9 million in its last financial year, and plans to grow its current team of 11 partners and 120 staff.

Mr McKinnon said: “Wylie & Bisset’s core strength is its independence and we recently embarked on a programme of further development via acquisitions, organic growth and key appointments. Gerald’s appointment significantly enhances our corporate finance offering.”