By Dr Liz Cameron OBE, Chief Executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce
As the old year closes and the new one dawns there is both unease and yet a sense of hope and purpose.
Unease because we are, for all intents and purposes, back at square one in our fight against the spread of the virus, with lockdowns continuing to extinguish businesses and jobs. Hope because, even though a fast-spreading mutation of the virus is taking a toll, vaccines have been developed quickly and are being deployed to wipe it out, offering the promise that we can once again return to a more normal way of life. Purpose, because this last year has fundamentally changed our approach and taught us to appreciate what matters most to us. Given the chance to rebuild, there is a stronger will to build back better so that there is opportunity for all as we focus the transition to a low-carbon future.
But first we must overcome some hurdles. The negotiations over our future relationship with the European Union went to the last minute and details remain sketchy. Now the brinkmanship is over, the government must set out the detail of what it means to continue to trade with our EU partners and what it will take to access opportunities in new markets. And wherever there is detriment or difficulty caused by these new arrangements, the government must move swiftly and decisively with support and guidance to overcome them.
This year – if all goes to plan – there will be an election which will welcome both old and new members to the Scottish Parliament.
What we need is for these members to provide the leadership Scotland deserves. We will renew our invitation to all of them – come, sit down together with us and plan what our future might look like. Scotland’s 30 chambers of commerce are ready to work with those who work with us.
We must negotiate this next difficult phase of the pandemic together. Government at all levels need to renew their commitment to reopening the economy as well as keeping us all safe from the threat of the virus. As soon as data is available, our leaders must set out when businesses can be expected to return to trading so that they can once again have the confidence to invest.
As we embark on this new year with all its threats, businesses will also need to see a comprehensive package of support and stimulus, one that will ensure businesses can preserve as many jobs as is possible. Businesses need meaningful not piecemeal plans that ensure cash gets to where it is needed immediately.
We also need our political leaders to play an active part in shaping a vision for the economy and jobs like we have never seen before. Our city and town centres face a cataclysm as retail, hospitality and tourism industries which have been hit hardest by Covid-19 lockdowns falter and office workers stay home. Overcoming this will take commitment beyond any fine words about a “green jobs revolution” and such. We need a laser-like focus on skills development as well as the infrastructure industry needs to thrive and which gives them the confidence to invest.
Businesses that have got to the end of 2020 have shown a resilience and tenacity that demonstrates why they deserve support and belief they will continue to thrive. They have rolled with the punches and adapted. Keeping them afloat now means, when the time comes, they can bounce back to deliver investment and jobs and the ability to rebuild our communities and our economy. This must be our focus and our hope for 2021.
My ask to all of the business community – small and large – please help one another. A stronger, more collaborative approach will make the essential task of running a business even more effective. If you can all reach out and encourage each other, we can deliver on expanding into new markets, driving digital innovation and providing skilled jobs now and in the future.
If we get it right, there is some real hope that this year can deliver the recovery we need to ensure that both health and prosperity make a strong comeback.