Amid recent worrying news on Scotland’s economic performance, one item slipped through with little comment: a disappointing fall in our share of inward investment projects.
Figures from the UK Department for International Trade recorded 108 inward investment projects for Scotland in the 2015-16 financial year, down from 122 and 119 in the previous two years.
And the number of jobs created was well below a proportionate share of the British jobs, at 4,200.
Pundits fingered Brexit as a possible explanation for the fall. But for two reasons this doesn’t stack up. First, the figures are for the period to April 2016 – before the EU referendum vote.
And second, inward investment projects – and jobs created – continued to rise across the rest of the UK.
Foreign investment in the UK numbered more than 2,200 projects – up by 11 per cent on the previous 12 months – and almost 83,000 jobs were created or sustained by them. While this was down slightly on the previous twelve months, it is the second highest figure since data began.
The projects included new factories and branch offices, expansion of existing plants, and firms being taken over.
However, there is some light in the gloom. While London dominates with 889 projects attracted last year, Scotland is still rated as being attractive to foreign investors.
In a separate annual survey by the business consultancy EY, Scotland came in second, after London.
We have taken comfort that Scottish Enterprise and the sister government agency Scottish Development International, provide support while in recent years regional development agencies elsewhere have been dismantled. This should mean Scotland is able to build a sustainable advantage.
But the figures show the English regions may now be catching up without public agency support. Northern England saw 228 new projects in 2015-16, a rise of 24 per cent, creating or supporting 10,700 jobs. Wales secured 97 projects, with 5,400 jobs attached.
So the competition from England looks to be getting tougher, while the slump in oil and gas may have hit Scottish numbers.
And the figures may reflect overseas investor hesitation in committing to Scotland given the uncertainty created by the independence referendum. Any Brexit effect cannot be estimated with any certainty until we see the figures for 2016 and beyond.
The requirement now is to show the world that Scotland is a stable and settled place in which to invest, as well as highlighting our other advantages including skilled labour, regional and international transport links – and an excellent quality of life.