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03 January 2018

FSB: Scottish business grit must be matched with political leadership

Reference number: SPUPR2112

In his New Year message, the Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) Scottish Policy Convener, Andy Willox, calls on governments in Edinburgh and London to work harder to restore business confidence in 2018.

He said: “There’s no shortage of grit in the Scottish business community.

“In my experience, those who have chosen to strike out and establish their own business are amongst the most hard-working, resilient and irrepressible in society. However, evidence from FSB members and the wider business community suggests that too many otherwise resolute Scottish entrepreneurs are gloomy about the country’s prospects.

“Over the course of last year, those in business in Scotland reported that they felt less and less confident about the future. Little wonder as rising overheads ate further into profit margins, consumer confidence remained shaky and the Brexit talks left us uncertain about the longer term economic outlook.

“To top the year off, the Scottish Government unveiled a major shake-up in income tax – taking more from middle and higher earners – despite a majority of business owners wanting rates to stay the same.

“But why does this business anxiety matter? Why should we care if private sector decision-makers are having sleepless nights?

“Well, as Derek Mackay unveiled his draft budget, the Scottish Fiscal Commission projected that Scottish GDP would barely grow by a percentage point every 12 months for the next 5 years. That’s about half of Scotland’s historic rate – which was hardly supercharged.

“But projections are just that.  If we can reassure those in business, then we can defy those expectations. Bullish businesses could drive investment, create jobs and help create the successful local communities that we all want to see.

“Therefore, this year policymakers in Holyrood and Westminster must give the small business community legitimate cause to believe that the country is heading in the right direction.

“Those in business are used to getting on with the job, working around problems rather than being flummoxed by them. But every moment and pound spent negotiating a new challenge is resource that can’t be spent elsewhere.

“While more change is inevitable, ways and means can be found to minimise disruption and instil confidence. And those in charge should expect and welcome perspectives from those not in the political bubble.        

“This year, no-one asking questions of our governments’ plans should be denigrated for searching for reassurance. Those in power have a duty to prove their plans are robust and grounded in fact.

“With so many big changes already set in motion, politicians and officials need to minimise the economic impact of those already in the works. Therefore, as the UK leaves the EU, we need an orderly transitional period and new immigration and trade systems which work for smaller firms as well as large. More locally, low emission zones in Scottish cities must not make our urban centres more difficult places in which to do business.

“Further, in 2018, unhelpful distracting plans and initiatives – that often originate in parts of government far away from the economy and business briefs – need to be binned or postponed. That means, for example, putting on hold proposals for a bottle deposit scheme.

“In 2018, Scotland’s business community can help to defy the sluggish-to-comatose economic growth predictions. But only if politicians’ plans for the country stand up to deserved scrutiny.”