Fortnum Boss Warns of Scots Vote 'Disaster'
The chief executive of Fortnum & Mason, the upmarket London-based grocer has warned that a 'yes' vote in the Scottish independence referendum would be a "disaster" for the country.
Speaking exclusively to Sky News, Ewan Venters, a Scot by birth, said that a break-up of the United Kingdom would create a damaging period of uncertainty for businesses.
"I think it would be a disaster. The UK is better as one. We are a small enough island as it is, we don't need to become smaller," he said.
"The consequences of an independent Scotland and an independent England could be very unfavourable economically. That uncertainty is not what the country needs."
Mr Venters, who has run the Queen's grocer since 2012, is one of the most senior English-based Scottish businessmen to articulate his views about the implications of the referendum vote which takes place in September.
A former executive at companies including J Sainsbury and Selfridges, which is owned by the same family as Fortnum & Mason, Mr Venters also criticised the fact that he would not be allowed to take part in the vote.
"It is very disappointing that Scots like myself are not allowed a vote, when someone could be from any nation, move to Scot and be allowed a vote.
"It is an ill-conceived set-up of the referendum by those in the establishment who know that many of those who have moved away from Scotland to build careers elsewhere are in favour of the union remaining intact."
He is the latest in a growing number of executives and companies to speak out on independence.
In recent weeks, Alliance Trust, Standard Life and Royal Bank of Scotland have highlighted contingency planning being undertaken to prepare for a 'yes' vote.
In its annual report published this week, the defence contractor BAE Systems also said a vote in favour of independence could be disruptive.
Mr Venters, 41, was speaking in Dubai during a trip to mark the opening of Fortnum & Mason's first overseas store, opposite the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest skyscraper.
Fortnum & Mason, which operated solely from its shop on London's Piccadilly for more than 300 years, was founded in 1707, the year that the Act of Union binding England and Scotland came into being.
Mr Venters wants the Dubai store, which has been developed in conjunction with AKI, a local partner, to be the first step in a carefully and gradually orchestrated expansion of the business.
"It is a very important milestone because customers from this region are hugely important at our Piccadilly store," he said.
"Fortnum has a long history of taking products to customers around the world," he said, which included exporting Christmas hampers to 112 countries towards the end of last year.
Dubai was chosen as Fortnum's first international outpost because of the Emirates' status as the most important luxury retail centre in the world, behind London, he added.
"Tea is the most popular drink after water here. As tea merchants for more than three centuries, we felt it was important to be here," he said.
Mr Venters cautioned against expectations that the Dubai opening would lead to a chain of Fortnum & Mason stores opening around the world, although he has now overseen the launch of two outlets in little more than six months.
Last autumn, the company opened a shop next to the Eurostar terminal at London's St Pancras station, with sales understood to be performing strongly.
"We will carefully consider other opportunities in what I call surging economies rather than emerging markets.
"This is a good moment to look at taking firmer positions in the world on a gradual basis."
"Over half of our business is made up of consumers living in the UK. That trend has increased in recent times as we have tried to make it more relevant to domestic consumers," Mr Venters said.
He described Britain's economy as "two-tier", with London the dominant force, adding that this week's Budget statement by George Osborne was "business-friendly and broadly friendly to working people of Britain by ensuring there's more money in people's pockets".
Mr Venters also waded into the debate about the future of Britain's troubled high streets, calling for a significant increase in residential development in order to stimulate wider usage.
"The opportunity for the high street has never been so good. The drive to buy more online means people are shopping on a more frequent basis.
"With some proactive housing policies on high streets and sensible movement on business rates, there is no reason why you couldn't start to see a revival."