Analysis: Challenging times – but many firms can see a brighter future

THE figures on Scotland’s unemployment, GDP and manufactured exports are better than we might have expected, and there are realistic expectations of a brighter future for the Scottish economy.

Although all three figures were released on the same day, they related to two different periods. The unemployment figures concern the three months to February 2012, while both the GDP and export figures relate to the three months to December 2011. All of these figures are therefore historic, and we cannot directly map yesterday’s unemployment figures to the fall in GDP. If we look at the unemployment figures for the corresponding period to the fall in GDP, we find that Scottish unemployment rose by 16,000 at that time.

Let us not forget that between October and December last year, the issue of potential eurozone sovereign debt default was never far from the headlines, and economic perceptions were weak. This is particularly important in terms of its effect on exports, with seven out of Scotland’s ten top export destinations being eurozone nations.

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Even against this background, however, we find that our exports remained level and our GDP figures, although recording a small contraction, were significantly better than the UK figure of -0.3 per cent for the quarter.

What this week’s figures tell us is that the Scottish economy had a difficult final three months of 2012 but that employment levels have picked up since.

Yes, the spectre of sovereign debt remains with us, and the economic environment remains challenging, but it seems clear that many Scottish businesses have performed beyond their expectations during 2012 so far. Both the Scottish and UK governments are pursuing policies aimed at maximising long-term business growth opportunities by investing in infrastructure and reducing corporate taxes.

We are in no doubt that many challenges remain before Scotland is able to return to a consistent period of strong growth, but our business community has displayed extraordinary resilience and is well positioned to take advantage of opportunities as they emerge and, crucially, to create the jobs Scotland needs.

•  Liz Cameron is chief executive, Scottish Chambers of Commerce.