Alarm bells ring as Scots business failures jump by fifth

Experts have branded a 21 per cent surge in Scottish business failures as “concerning” amid a continued slump in corporate confidence.

Many firms have been hit by the downturn on the high street. Picture: Michael Gillen

The number of firms failing in 2018 rose to 945 compared with 780 the previous year, according to analysis of the latest official figures from the Accountant in Bankruptcy (AiB).

It marks the highest annual figure for corporate insolvencies since 2012 and is the fourth highest level ever recorded.

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Eileen Blackburn, head of restructuring and debt advisory at accountancy firm French Duncan LLP, said: “That this is happening when interest rates are at historically low levels, when unemployment is at a record low and the economy is growing indicates something more fundamental is happening.

“Problems with the viability of the high street, continued uncertainty over Brexit and the consequent reduced investment, and shifting consumer buying have all had an impact.”

She added: “The problem is that with interest rates only going one way, with continuing confusion over the UK’s future relationship with Europe, and with the political situation in turmoil it seems likely that many businesses will face even more difficulties in the coming year.

Tim Cooper, chair of R3 in Scotland, the insolvency and restructuring trade body, said: “It is worth noting that we may not be seeing the whole picture, as the statistics do not include administrations or company voluntary arrangements, nor the number of companies which were rescued outside of a statutory insolvency procedure. That said, the year-on-year increase in liquidations is nonetheless concerning.

“Consumer confidence in Scotland has been firmly in negative territory all year, and – as the higher number of personal insolvencies in Scotland confirms – many people are at the reaches of their personal budgets with no extra cash.

“Companies which are counting on consumer spending to at least match previous levels may well find themselves counting the costs of this approach.”

From a personal bankruptcy perspective, the overall number of Scots going bust in 2018 rose 13.6 per cent compared to the previous year, according to French Duncan’s analysis of the latest data.

AiB classes the period from October to December as the third financial quarter while the accountancy firm uses the calendar year.

French Duncan said overall personal insolvencies rose from 10,585 in 2017 to 12,025 last year.

Blackburn said: “The increase in the number of personal insolvencies in 2018 will not have come as a surprise to anyone dealing with individuals in debt. This is the fourth year in a row in which personal insolvencies have increased and there are clear signs that large numbers of the population continue to experience serious financial problems.”