ENTREPRENEURS Sir Tom Hunter and Lord Willie Haughey have called out the Scottish Government for creating barriers to doing business north of the Border.

Speaking on the Go Radio Business Show with Hunter & Haughey, the high-profile businessmen – who have long been critical of what they say is a lack of support in Holyrood for the Scottish business community – pointed to the country’s income tax regime as one of the biggest barriers.

Sir Tom Hunter said that he “could name 10 investors who said they are not coming to Scotland” – due to uncertainty over “what the government is going to come up with next”. Ayrshire-born Sir Tom, known for his West Coast Capital investment business and his philanthropic work through The Hunter Foundation (THF), also pointed to the “Scottish weighting” factor.

Entrepreneurs call for urgent solution to Scotland’s housing crisis

Explaining that this means firms trying to attract talent to Scotland must pay people higher salaries to compensate for the higher income tax introduced by the SNP, he said: “We are trying to attract and retain talent but because of the tax hike – we have six bands of income tax and the rest of the UK has three – we have to pay them more so their take-home pay is the same as if they were in Newcastle of Birmingham.

Business not always about price, says entrepreneur

“Talk about putting barriers in the way of enterprise! I think someone is sitting in a cold room coming up with ways to stop enterprise in Scotland and I am telling you now – it needs to stop. We are becoming a laughing stock.”

The entrepreneurs also expressed concern about the future of the hospitality industry, pointing to last week’s revelation that Stonegate, the UK’s biggest pub company, was facing debts of £2.3 billion. As the UK’s biggest pub company, it owns a network of more than 4,400 pubs and bars across the country, including the Slug & Lettuce.

Sir Tom highlighted that the UK Government, in its Autumn Statement last year, announced that its 75% business rates relief for eligible retail, hospitality and leisure would be extended to March 31, 2025. “Rates are devolved to Scotland so Scotland does not need to follow suit,” he noted.

“Therefore, if you a retailer – not just a hospitality business – you are in a worse position than you would be if you were in England.”

Sir Tom added that, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics covering the 12 months to September 2023, the Scottish Government’s failure to pass on business rates relief had contributed to the loss of 29,000 retail jobs. “I don’t think we can credit rates for the whole of that but for an industry that is going through flux we need a bit of help,” he said.

Entrepreneurs hail investment in Glasgow but warn support is needed

“I know the government can’t do everything but it does seem to me that our government is not doing anything to help.”

Describing the figure as “huge”, Lord Haughey noted: “That is a reduction of 7% of jobs in retail. We have to look at that.”

The businessmen also pointed to the “tumultuous” day on the markets in the USA last week, warning it could have repercussion for the UK. “Inflation went up to 3.5% in March,” said Sir Tom. “It was 3.2% in February and 3.1% in January.

Business veterans say Scotland can learn from Ireland’s success

“If any small business owner in Scotland is thinking ‘what does that have to do with me’ – if inflation continues [to go up] even by points of percentages they are not going to cut interest rates [here],” he warned. “We are led by the States. They were thinking there might be two rates cuts by June but now it might be November.

“Does it follow through for the UK? Not always, but I think on this occasion … there is an American presidential election as well and there will probably be a UK General Election around the same time.”

On a more positive US benefit, however, Sir Tom and Lord Haughey highlighted the award-winning singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, who is bringing her Eras tour to Edinburgh’s Murrayfield this summer. The “Taylor Swift effect” is expected to boost the capital’s economy buy also create a ripple effect across the central belt.

Glasgow's SEC to double in capacity under £80 million plan

Meanwhile, they also hailed an ambitious £80 million plan to double capacity at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow. The proposal, which has been agreed in principle by Glasgow City Council, could see a new conference centre built on the east side of the campus.