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Scottish engineering firm Weir warns over independence uncertainty

Weir’s Scottish-born chief executive, Keith Cochrane, said the FTSE 100 listed Glasgow-based engineering group shared concerns expressed last week by SSE

Weir Group has become the latest pillar of the Scottish business establishment to raise concerns over the independence debate after backing SSE’s warning that talk of secession is creating uncertainty for companies.

Weir’s Scottish-born chief executive, Keith Cochrane, said the FTSE 100-listed Glasgow-based engineering group shared concerns expressed last week by SSE, the utility formerly known as Scottish and Southern Energy. SSE, a key player in Scotland’s future energy plans, said the upcoming referendum and doubts over Scotland’s presence in Europe were damaging business confidence. Although Weir’s market capitalisation is less than half the size of SSE’s, at £4.6bn, it remains one of Scotland’s, and the UK’s, biggest businesses.

Cochrane said the uncertainty was less threatening for Weir because of the extensive global footprint of its business, which makes equipment for oil exploration and power generation companies, but David Cameron and Alex Salmond needed to answer questions about Scotland’s political future. “I know SSE made a submission last week and we are not in the same position as SSE in terms of impact. But as I stand back and think about it as a businessman who happens to be based in Scotland, I have to say that I agree with the points that they put forward in terms of uncertainty that these issues can create.”

Cochrane added that certain questions had to be answered “as soon as possible”, including an outline of the referendum process and the structure of an independent Scotland. “People need to understand and take an informed view of what is a life-changing, generational decision.” Cochrane also downplayed the notion of Weir moving its headquarters out of Scotland. “Yes we could move but I have lived and worked in Scotland all my life. I am a proud Scot. Fundamentally it is about the business environment and any changes that independence will bring.” David Cameron is seeking to bring forward the referendum to September 2013 rather than staging it in the autumn of 2014, which is first minister Alex Salmond’s preference.

Cochrane said his concerns applied to politicians on both sides of the border. “What is important is that there is as much certainty around both the process and indeed clearly around what independence looks like. Therefore we do have a number of questions as to what exactly is being proposed.”

Cochrane spoke as Weir announced a 30% increase in revenues to £2.47bn last year, while pre-tax profits, excluding exceptional items, rose 34% to £396m. Weir said more than a third of its business was generated from emerging markets. Cochrane added that shale gas exploration would continue to be a boon for the business, which has benefited from a shale exploration surge in the US. “The opportunity for us upstream is on a couple of fronts and one is the industrialisation of shale. You look at Poland, China, Argentina, Australia, they are markets where something is happening a wee bit quicker than we thought would happen.” © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds