Public source data and Scottish independence

The uncertainty surrounding Scottish independence leaves a question mark hanging over the future of public data access, a debate critical for businesses either side of the border, says Chris Oatts, operations director at Graydon UK.

In the run-up to the Scottish referendum, much has been made of the future impact of independence on Scottish business. But one possible repercussion that hasn’t received much airtime is the lack of certainty around data transparency and access to information regarding Scottish companies.

Here, Chris Oatts, operations director at credit agency Graydon UK, argues that whatever the final result, continued access to public source data will be critical for businesses either side of the border.

It was the Scottish poet Robert Burns who famously said, ‘There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing’. Well, as the Scots prepare to vote this week, there are no ‘sure things’ and much ‘uncertainty’ as the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns trade blows and appear neck and neck in the polls.

While politicians discuss the potential social, political and economic impacts of Scottish secession, it is the implication for data access and transparency that worries me most. Of course, it is by no means clear what an independent Scottish government would decree in terms of public and private data sources relating to Scottish companies. But a potential u-turn on the transparency measures instituted by Westminster in recent years – measures for which Graydon UK and our industry peers have campaigned vigorously – must be considered.

Currently, public data and information relating to UK businesses is stored at Companies House in Cardiff. An executive agency of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Companies House retains all information delivered under the Companies Act – information on the shareholders, directors, profits and losses of limited companies – and makes it available to the public on a per-request basis. At Graydon UK, we regularly use this information to assess the creditworthiness of corporate entities and help our clients make well-informed business decisions.

There are of course separate registrars for business information relating to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but currently this information is all stored under one roof. In fact, 5 per cent of the data held in Cardiff relates to Scottish businesses, which means commercial ventures and projects north of the border can also be underpinned with transparent and reliable business information. The question is, what will happen to this information if the Scots vote ‘Yes’, and will the public still enjoy the same level of data access?

Elsewhere, the Registry Trust Limited stores all county court judgments, including rulings in Scotland which are collected from the Scottish courts. It is the only public source for data of this kind anywhere in the UK. When assessing the viability of businesses, being able to access judgments against companies is essential. Similarly, the Stationery Office currently publishes business-critical information in the London, Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes, providing crucial insights into insolvency issues and other business matters.

So, we currently have a robust and progressive framework in the UK for business data access. My sincere hope is that this framework remains intact whatever the outcome of the Scottish referendum. In the event of ‘Yes’ vote, the status quo will most likely be preserved in most areas for some time, but long term it is harder to predict what will happen – especially regarding business law and data access. What, for example, will happen to the VAT register for Scottish companies currently held by HMRC? Where will investors turn for commercial and legal information should there be a change in the way Scottish data is made available?

Just as the UK is emerging from recession, the vote on Scottish independence has done much to breed uncertainty and muddy the waters for business. Such uncertainty will inevitably cause delays on key decisions relating to growth, and will only deepen further should Scotland decide to ‘go it alone’ on business access and information.

Further reading on Scottish independence

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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