Terry Murden: Happy new year? Well, maybe a smile or two

WITH the light fading on 2011, the new year is already shouldering a lot of expectation for some sort of recovery. But you’d be advised not to bet your shirt on anything other than more of the same.

With the light fading on 2011, the new year is already shouldering a lot of expectation for some sort of recovery. But you’d be advised not to bet your shirt on anything other than more of the same.

Yes, it really is difficult to be optimistic. All that Christmas merriment will have sounded a little hollow for those worrying about job prospects and whether their business will survive the next 12 months.

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Let’s forget the eurozone for a moment – we know there’s a big problem out there that will carry on for several months yet – and focus on those issues that need attention closer to home: business rates on the rise, more public sector job cuts, rail fares going up, the housing slump continuing. Some of these are self-inflicted punishments and just as Chancellor George Osborne postponed the fuel levy due next week and announced more spending on infrastructure, so more should be done to ease taxes and encourage demand.

So what can we look forward to? Here’s a rough guide to those things that will provide some new year cheer (well, maybe a little).

Interest rates

They will remain at record lows throughout the year. It doesn’t necessarily mean that a new loan will be cheap or easily available but it will provide those with a steady income and no plans to move house with a period of low and stable repayments. On the other hand, if you’re a saver, bad luck. You could try gambling.

Green future

The renewables industry is a provider of jobs and opportunities for new companies to grow. Sadly, many of the assets are already foreign-owned and if you live next to a whirring windmill you won’t want to leave your windows open. The sight of a windmill on fire during the recent storms won’t have gladdened the hearts of those who believe green energy is risk-free.

Nevertheless, the industry is emerging as one of the more important in Scotland. Unfortunately, the Danes, the Dutch and the Germans are thinking the same thing, so we have to be smart if we’re to stay ahead.

Making things

Britain was once the workshop to the world and the coalition wants us to rekindle our relationship with manufacturing. The car industry has been one of the brightest performers, with jobs being created by Honda, Nissan and Toyota, among others.

OK, so they’re not British but they are providing jobs for British workers.

The steelworks at Redcar is also due to reopen. No sign of anyone reopening the Singer factory at Clydebank, but at least Peter Hughes of lobby group Scottish Engineering believes the country’s manufacturers are in fine fettle and the sector has maintained a generally upbeat tone in a difficult year.

Shop till you...

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...can’t find anything on the high street any more. Retail remains one of Britain’s biggest private sector employers, but the list of names is fast declining (see feature opposite) and the number of gap sites in our main thoroughfares was enough to prompt the coalition into appointing television shopping guru Mary Portas to conduct an inquiry.

Her report was a little disappointing and didn’t tell us much that wasn’t blindlingly obvious (the need for more free parking, etc) but at least it helped push the issue up the political agenda.

Action is needed to stop the rot, but politicians are unlikely to stand in the way of big retailers if they demand more out of town space. The internet is another issue they can’t do much about. Amazon, one of the biggest online operators, is creating hundreds of jobs in Scotland, so we shouldn’t complain too much, and the problems may force the authorities and companies themselves to smarten up our rundown town centres.

Sadly, though, the fight for our shopping pounds is turning into a straight fight between Amazon and Tesco.