Scots firms optimistic but recruitment still tough

The latest Scottish Chambers of Commerce’s Quarterly Economic Indicator survey showed Scottish firms continuing to display resilience amid economic uncertainty — and found growing optimism within manufacturing and financial & business services firms.

However, the survey, produced by the Scottish Chambers of Commerce Network in collaboration with the University of Strathclyde’s Fraser of Allander Institute, found concerns about investment levels and serious recruitment challenges.

The retail sector displayed some evidence of an encouraging fourth quarter, with key financial indicators such as sales and cash flow reported as improved over the third quarter of 2017.

Professor Graeme Roy of the Fraser of Allander Institute said: “With heightened levels of uncertainty, it is unsurprising that investment intentions remain modest, whilst the tight labour market means that many firms continue to report difficulties in recruiting staff.

“Encouragingly, training investment is holding up a little better.”

Neil Amner of Anderson Strathern, Chair of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce Economic Advisory Group, said: “The results of the fourth quarter Quarterly Economic Indicator are broadly positive, and suggest that Scottish businesses are continuing to display positivity in an uncertain economic environment.

“Firms remain concerned about a range of issues however, with over 87% of manufacturers anxious around the rising costs of raw materials and its effect on their prices.

“Further, the fact that over half of Tourism respondents indicating business rates as their primary concern, in addition to 40% of Business Services firms citing taxation, suggests that the debate on Income Tax and the wider tax mix in Scotland will continue to be of interest beyond the Scottish budget’s parliamentary approval process.

“Recruitment difficulties have continued to worsen for a number of sectors, particularly manufacturing, tourism and financial and business services, with the latter two sectors close to the highest levels ever measured in the survey.

“Many sectors are continuing to invest in training in an attempt to retain and upskill their existing staff, but it is clear that businesses are finding it challenging to fill vacancies.

“This continues to emphasise the need for Government to continue investing in our talent and skills base through initiatives including Developing the Young Workforce and Foundation Apprenticeships. In addition the need for a practical immigration policy to arise from the Brexit negotiations, which puts business first, is made even more critical by these conditions.”