Colin Borland: Enabling firms to recruit is key task in 2012

OF THE emotions with which we look forward to 2012, unbridled optimism is unlikely to be chief among them. 2011 has not been comfortable for many, with prices for essentials such as gas and electricity going through the roof while household incomes suffer from wage freezes or, worse, job losses.

A quarter of a million Scots are spending this festive season on the dole. One in four of our 16 to 24-year-olds are without work. And, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development this week, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

There will be no bigger challenge in 2012 than defying this prediction.

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Because, beyond the personal tragedies for those who spend years without work and the obvious implications for the public purse, any hope of recovery depends on breaking the vicious cycle of rising unemployment reducing activity and leading to further job losses.

It is encouraging, though, that our elected representatives have set their sights on tackling unemployment, particularly among youth.

Above everything, their focus must be on increasing the number of jobs. But, with the public sector looking to reduce headcount, the task for government is not to create those jobs, but to create the environment in which it is easier for our small businesses and entrepreneurs to do so.

And that means taking some smart, if tough, decisions. MSPs will need to come down on the side of business, for example, when they consider the Sustainable Procurement Bill. They will need to ensure local small firms get a fairer chance of bidding for government contracts. They can’t give in to the vested interests which will be pushing hard to add extra hoops through which only large multinationals can jump.

Elsewhere, MPs and MSPs will need to look at how government helps (and hinders) the smallest businesses looking to recruit.

Some choices might be unpopular in the short term, but making the right choices will help broaden and strengthen our economic base – putting us on a firmer footing for years to come.

• Colin Borland is head of external affairs for the Federation of Small Businesses