As the closing curtain falls on 2021, it offers us all an opportunity to reflect and learn from the past year. This is important as we look to the opportunities that exist in the year ahead.
Scotland’s businesses have experienced a tumultuous period of extraordinary highs and lows over the past 12 months and, at the time of writing, unfortunately this looks set to continue as we enter the new year.
Businesses and the people who drive them forward have shown incredible resilience, innovation, and creativity over the course of the pandemic and many have been able to successfully pivot and adapt their business models to match the rapidly changing Covid-19 economy.
Regrettably though, Scottish Government figures have shown that during the first year of the pandemic the estimated number of businesses in Scotland fell by almost 20,000, demonstrating the immense toll placed on employers, employees, and the wider Scottish economy.
Scotland’s business community is close-knit, we share in each other’s successes, and we feel the pain of frustrations. That is why when our economy and our businesses are facing so many major challenges, the SCC network comes together to work collectively with the joint aim of securing a strong return to economic growth and ensuring as many businesses as possible not only survive but are able to thrive once again.
Although Scotland was on a firm course towards economic growth following the lifting of many Covid-19 restrictions earlier this year, our businesses and economy have been plunged back on to a rocky path thanks to the new Omicron variant and the uncertainty attached to it.
The return of restrictions has hit the hospitality, retail and tourism sectors hard, resulting in enforced closures, decreased capacity and staff absences, meaning little or no income coming in to pay the bills.
Government needs to rethink the financial support packages available and the banks must also rally round to support struggling firms through increased free overdraft facilities and other measures to enable them to survive.
We must invest now if we want to rebuild in the future.
My sincere hope is that by early 2022 businesses will no longer be living with the constant threat of a return to more restrictions, counting lost revenue in the millions of pounds, and that we can leave this torrid chapter behind us and return to a period of certainty, matched with sustained economic growth.
It is not just Scotland’s business owners who have shown the grit and determination to get through this period though and it is crucial that businesses also recognise the huge contribution that our employees have made.
From the shop floor to the boardroom, Scotland’s people have stepped up and gone that extra mile to keep our economy functioning and businesses operating efficiently and effectively. With additional hours spent on Zoom calls, staff taking on additional shifts to cover for colleagues self-isolating and people finding new and innovative ways of working, employees have truly shown they are at the heart of our businesses.
It is important that we also pay tribute to those working in our emergency services over Christmas and New Year – the doctors and nurses, firefighters, police officers, and many others who devote their lives to serving others in the most gruelling of circumstances.
And it is not only those in the emergency services who deserve our thanks but those other frontline, key workers who have continued to serve their communities throughout the pandemic, keeping the services that businesses, and all of us, rely on running smoothly.
While the year ahead may look daunting now from a business perspective, it is worth remembering the adage that “this too shall pass” and Scotland’s restrictions on business will eventually be lifted again, opening up a clear path towards the growth we have all strived so hard to secure since the vaccine rollout offered a route back to economic prosperity.
Wishing you a happy, healthy New Year.
Liz Cameron is chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce