Firms cautious but shopper numbers up

Confidence at three-year low for small firms

Andy WilloxConfidence among small firms in Scotland has fallen to its lowest level for three years, reveals the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

It says there is a widening gap between Scottish business growth expectations and the UK average.

The small business campaign group’s figures for the final three months of last year suggest that this fall in business confidence may be due, in part, to the decline in the oil and gas industry filtering through to the wider economy. Small businesses expect the trading environment to remain about the same.

Scottish policy convenor, Andy Willox (pictured), said the falling price of oil and the pressures on public sector budgets were having an impact.

“The creeping gap between Scottish small business confidence and the UK average is a cause for concern,” he said, adding that increased red tape was also an issue for small business owners.

“Firms face a lorry load of regulatory changes in 2016 – such as new pension requirements and the changes to the minimum wage. Many members tell us that they’ve revisited their business plans as a consequence of these changes. Decision-makers in Edinburgh and London need to be sensitive to the cumulative impact of challenges that small businesses now face.”

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “We will discuss the detail of today’s report with the Federation of Small Businesses and will continue to all that we can do the support small business and boost confidence.”

* A financial services survey from the CBI and PwC shows growth in business volumes picked up more strongly than expected in the three months to December 2015 and profitability continued to improve at a healthy pace.

The survey of 100 financial services firms also showed that cybercrime had eclipsed regulatory challenges for the first time in a list of possible risks to banks.

Allan McGrath, financial services partner, PwC in Scotland, said that while optimism continues to be muted across the industry, there are some glimmers of light.

“Nevertheless, cost reduction remains a significant issue alongside ongoing low interest rates and stock market volatility,” he said.

* The number of shoppers hitting the high street was higher during the festive season in Scotland than the rest of the UK.

Footfall numbers in Scotland were 0.2% higher than a year ago, significantly above the 4.2% fall in November 2015. This is best footfall performance since April 2015.

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “Buoyed by Christmas, cheaper petrol and by retailers’ own promotional and pricing efforts, this was a more encouraging end to the year for shopper footfall in Scotland.

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