Opinion: Fiona Woolf
Regardless of the referendum vote, Scottish legal and other businesses can work with the City of London to realise increasing opportunities in the global marketplace
The eyes of the world will be on Scotland over the next six months. Not only is Glasgow finalising preparations for the Commonwealth Games later this summer, but there is also the small matter of the independence referendum in September.
This is an incredibly exciting time for Scotland, regardless of sporting or political affiliation. Having visited Edinburgh – where I was born and raised – and Aberdeen earlier this year, it is clear to me that the opportunities open to us on both sides of the border are on a scale never seen before.
This is not a zero-sum game. Growth in London is not at the expense of growth in Edinburgh or Aberdeen, but complements and enhances it – as the recent Cities Outlook report from the Centre for Cities showed clearly.
As a proud Scottish Lord Mayor of the City of London, I will be banging the drum for Scottish businesses throughout my year in office. Indeed, I have been doing just that in the Gulf, Turkey and India in recent months. My job is to promote the UK-wide financial and professional services industry around the globe. It is important to recognise that this is not just about the City; two thirds of the 2,000,000-plus people employed in the sector are outside London. Many are in Scotland. International trade is vital to the success of our businesses, which operate in an increasingly competitive and interconnected global marketplace.
This is especially true when it comes to the energy industry. On my visit to Aberdeen, I found a city with a flourishing private sector, acknowledged worldwide as a centre of excellence in the oil and gas industry. Professional services jobs created on the back of the energy sector are now vital to Aberdeen, and there is a thriving legal, banking and investment environment, based on Scotland’s north-east coast, and catering to an increasingly global market.
As an energy lawyer, I know that these sectors have the power to transform lives across the globe. The UK has a strong track record of collecting best practice and applying it to provide tailored solutions. Scottish legal services connected to the oil, gas and renewable energy sectors are in high demand worldwide. Importantly, London has the highest number of Scots law experts after Edinburgh and Glasgow. Having two jurisdictions covering both civil and common law is a distinct advantage of the United Kingdom’s legal “offer” overseas.
During my visit, Finance Secretary John Swinney noted that investment in the energy industry is a priority for the Scottish Government and that he is actively looking at removing barriers to investment, particularly in clean energy and renewables. He also highlighted that the administration is looking at a twin track approach of generating the right arrangements for exploration of oil and gas in an increasingly challenging environment, while actively pursuing the development of renewable energy. Energy and infrastructure are topics of almost every overseas visit to high-growth markets – especially in the Gulf – so there is clearly an opportunity to utilise our expertise to bring cheaper, cleaner and more energy to people the world over. Sustainability is a particularly important issue, and harnessing the skills derived from the oil and gas industry into the renewables sector gives huge potential for future growth in Scotland.
Of course, it is crucial that the businesses have access to skilled individuals so they can realise their full potential. The work that the Robert Gordon University, the University of Aberdeen and other institutions are undertaking in value-added training for the energy industry, and to promote research and development in new areas including the renewables sector, is crucial to this going forward. Research and development will help to underpin Aberdeen’s competitive advantage by developing the next big breakthrough.
If we are to succeed on the global stage, it is vital that the City and Scotland continue to work closely together. We may compete at the margins for business, but this only serves to make our offer stronger internationally. Regardless of the independence vote, we must raise our voices as one for the next six months and beyond.
Fiona Woolf is Lord Mayor of the City of London