Confidence up at Scottish businesses ahead of lockdown easing

Scottish business leaders are feeling increasingly positive about prospects for their firms this year ahead of the opening-up of the economy, according to the findings of a new survey.

Four in ten businesses in Scotland say they are optimistic about prospects during 2021. Picture: AFP via Getty Images.

Research commissioned by support service Business Gateway found that 40 per cent of businesses questioned said they were “optimistic” about the future of their firm in 2021.

The research, which surveyed businesses at the end of February, represented a range of industries that have been impacted by the pandemic including retail, tourism, hospitality and food and drink.

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Although the longer-term picture is more positive, the pandemic is undoubtedly still a pressing concern for Scottish businesses, with only 31 per cent reporting that they felt positive about the remainder of the current quarter, while 37 per cent said they felt pessimistic or very pessimistic about the future of their business for the same period. However, these concerns lifted slightly when asked about the rest of the year, with 31 per cent of businesses reporting that they are pessimistic.

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The survey also revealed that more than 60 per cent of businesses felt that they were prepared to leave the European Union at the start of 2021. However, almost the same number (59 per cent) still weren’t certain as to whether Brexit would have a positive or negative impact on their business.

Hugh Lightbody, chief officer for Business Gateway’s National Unit, said: “As we approach the anniversary of the first national lockdown, we must take some positives from the results of this survey.

“We appreciate that the pandemic is not over yet, and for some businesses, this will continue to be a concern. However, it is welcome to see initial signs that some businesses are feeling more optimistic about their prospects. Going forward, it is important not to lose momentum and it will be vital that businesses continue to have access to a range of support, as they begin the journey back to a form of normality.”

Acceleration

Despite the accelerating shift to online during the pandemic, the research also revealed that just over half of businesses surveyed have not yet invested in their digital capabilities.

This contrasts with 44 per cent who have improved their digital offering since the start of the pandemic by improving their website (28 per cent), investing in their social media platforms (22 per cent), purchasing new IT equipment (24 per cent) or starting an online service (21 per cent).

Mr Lightbody added: “For many Scottish businesses, the only way to survive the pandemic has been to digitally upskill and, where possible, accelerate plans for digital transformation. This has provided many with a vital lifeline, letting them communicate and engage directly with their customers.

“Given this, and the finding that a number of businesses still haven’t invested in their digital platforms, we would strongly encourage all businesses to consider how they might want to improve their online offering and capitalise on the potential opportunities that are out there.”

Business Gateway’s survey saw more than 1,400 Scottish businesses questioned about their confidence levels.

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