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Keep up to date with the latest news and stories from across Dumfries & Galloway.

 

Economic worries increase but Scottish firms find inner strength

Business confidence in Scotland fell three points during October to four per cent, according to the latest Business Barometer from Bank of Scotland Commercial Banking.

A net balance of nine per cent of Scottish businesses now say they are pessimistic about the economy, compared with a month ago, when a balance of one per cent said they were optimistic.

Despite this, companies in Scotland report higher confidence in their business prospects at 18 per cent, up five points, while a net balance of 13 per cent expect to hire more staff during the next year, up seven points on last month.

Across the UK, overall confidence fell 10 points to 19 per cent, its sharpest fall and its lowest level all year, as firms’ optimism about the economy slumped 18 points to just eight per cent. Companies’ confidence in their own business prospects fell three points to 29 per cent.

The Business Barometer questions 1,200 businesses monthly and provides early signals about UK economic trends both regionally and nationwide.

Across Scotland, a net balance of 28 per cent of businesses said they felt that the UK’s exit from the European Union was having a negative impact on their expectations for business activity, an increase of 22 points on a month ago.

Fraser Sime, director, SME banking, Bank of Scotland, said: “Ongoing uncertainty appears to be weighing heavily on businesses’ optimism for the economy across the UK.

“However, it’s slightly more encouraging to see firms reporting growing confidence in their own business prospects and an increase in hiring intentions. This suggests a resilience that may prove to be valuable as companies await greater clarity on the UK’s future trading relationship.”

Regional picture

Businesses in London showed the most confidence, at 37 per cent, ahead of the North West (36 per cent) and the West Midlands (23 per cent).

Those in the South West were the least confident, with an overall confidence of just two per cent, 17 points below the national average.

Sectors

Overall confidence fell significantly in construction (22%, down 19 points) and manufacturing (21%, down 10 points). It also declined in consumer services (29%, down 4 points) and other services (15%, down 9 points).

Hann-Ju Ho, Senior Economist, Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “Business confidence is continuing to fall as firms become less optimistic about the wider economy, and is impacted by the mixed rhetoric on the progress being made in the ongoing EU-UK negotiations.”

PLANNED SOUTH OF SCOTLAND ECONOMIC AGENCY PLAN PLAGUED BY SNPs “OBSESSION WITH CENTRAL CONTROL” SAYS LOCAL MSP

Proposals for a new South of Scotland Enterprise Agency are plagued by the SNPs “obsession with central control”, according to South Scotland Labour MSP Colin Smyth.
 
The comments come after the Scottish Government today (25 October) published the South of Scotland Enterprise Bill which makes clear that decisions on the membership, budget, powers and plans will rest with Scottish Ministers rather than members of the new Agency. The bill falls significantly short of similar legislation when Highlands and Islands Enterprise was established.
 
Scottish Labour have pledged to amend the bill when it comes before the Scottish Parliament.
 
South Scotland MSP and Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Connectivity and Transport Colin Smyth said,
 
“Having campaigned for a South of Scotland Agency for over a decade, I’m pleased that this bill has been published at long last but deeply disappointed that the proposals are plagued by the Scottish Government’s obsession with central control. There are huge economic challenges facing a region that has been forgotten about by the Scottish Government for far too long. But the new Agency will not meet those challenges unless it is rooted in the South of Scotland, with a membership accountable to the area, not handpicked by Government Ministers in Edinburgh. Labour will amend the bill when it comes before Parliament to give the new agency the powers, budget and local accountability it needs to deliver real economic change for the South of Scotland rather than the damp squib planned by the Government.”

McAlpine To Meet With SSE Heads Over Crichton Campus

SNP MSP Joan McAlpine has set up a parliamentary meeting with senior representatives of Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE) in a bid to bring an end to the long running saga of fibre broadband connectivity at The Crichton Estate near Dumfries.
 
As part of the Atlas Project, a broadband infrastructure scheme funded by the EU, faster fibre-optic technology was installed in every building on the Crichton Estate in 2005. 
 
However, the fibre broadband was never connected.  Atlas Connect Limited, a company that was setup and wholly owned by Scottish Enterprise to carry out the work was subsequently sold to SSE plc in 2010.  In all that time, the fibre connection was never used by SSE despite the Crichton Trust asking for it to be set up.
 
Gwilym Gibbons, the CEO of Crichton Trust, has outlined the organisation’s ambition to turn Crichton into a ‘Gigabit campus’ as part of its continued development. The Trust believes that using the Estate’s fibre broadband connection is pivotal to Crichton’s ability to attract new business and investment.
 
Ms McAlpine, the South Scotland MSP, said:
 
“The Crichton Trust have big ambitions for the future of the Estate.  They see fibre broadband as integral to their plans.
 
“SSE seem to have no interest in operating or maintaining a fibre broadband connection at the site.  It has just sat dead since it was put in. 
 
“This is a curious situation as it means they are leasing an asset from which they receive no benefit.  Surely, the sensible thing to do would be to surrender the lease to the Crichton Trust and let them connect the Estate for the benefit of everyone.
 
“I am appealing to the benevolence of SSE.  Give a little bonus to the community the campus serves.  I hope that they will see that point of view at our meeting.”
 
The Crichton Estate constitutes an 85-acre parkland area which incorporates food, drink, leisure activities, business and an academic campus.  The land is owned by Dumfries and Galloway council who leases it to the Crichton Trust – a not-for-profit organisation. 
 
Four other sites around Scotland were connected under the Atlas Project and all of those sites were able to utilise their fibre connection after it was installed.  
 
SSE currently owns the lease to the Estate’s fibre broadband cabinet but the company has refused to operate and maintain the line.  This means that Crichton has been without fibre-optic connectivity as the network has lain dormant since it was installed back in 2005.  
 
Ms McAlpine hopes that this meeting will lead to a satisfactory resolution for all parties and that Crichton can finally be ‘lit up’.
 

Budget Good for Region, Predicts Secretary of State

A POSITIVE package of measures which should help deliver a brighter future for the UK and the south of Scotland.

 

That was the verdict from Dumfriesshire Clydesdale and Tweeddale MP David Mundell on Chancellor Philip Hammond's 2018 Budget speech on Monday afternoon.

 

Mr Mundell welcomed the 'end of austerity' measures, which coincided with better than predicted economic analysis, including improved growth figures.

 

The Scottish Secretary and 12 fellow MPs from north of the border held discussions with the Chancellor in the run-up to the Budget and were delighted that he had taken on board many of the points raised.

 

Mr Mundell highlighted £1 billion coming to Scotland in the next financial year through the Barnett Formula, including £550 million he is calling on the Scottish Government to earmark for NHS Scotland. 

 

Over the next five years an additional £2 billion of extra health spending will be allocated to the Scottish Government.

 

He also welcomed confirmation that progress was being made in finalising the Borderlands Growth Deal and more widely support for the fisheries and oil sectors.

 

Mr Mundell was pleased by the decisions to cut tax for local workers by raising personal allowances and to add an additional £1.7bn to provide extra protection to claimants in the rolling programme of transferring to the simpler Universal Credit benefits system.

 

In devolved areas, Mr Mundell urged the Scottish Government to mirror measures in England by increasing investment to regenerate high streets, incentivising the provision of public toilets and allocating extra investment to combat potholes.

 

Mr Mundell said: "It is great news for our region, where cars are essential for many, that fuel duty is to be frozen for a ninth year and with our whisky industry undergoing a renaissance the freeze in spirits, cider and beer duty are equally welcome. 

"Increased funding for defence, counter-terrorism and mental health care for services veterans are among many measures which I am sure will be appreciated by my constituents. 

"This is exactly the positive Budget needed to help take us forward confidently into a historic new era for our region, Scotland and all of the UK."

Colin Smyth Slams the Borderland Budget Betrayal

South Scotland MSP and Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Connectivity and Transport Colin Smyth has said that the UK Government has failed to deliver for the Borderlands Growth Deal as part of the announced budget, Monday 29th October.

The Borderlands Growth Deal is a proposed deal from both Dumfries and Galloway Council and Scottish Borders Council on the Scottish border and Cumbria County Council, Carlisle City Council and Northumberland County Council on the English side.

The Deal proposals were formally submitted at the end of last month. A clear deadline was set by the Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell MP, which meant proposals being submitted by the local authorities by the end of September would see a monetary value in the Budget. However, in the budget statement today the UK Government announced £150m for a Tayside Growth Deal but no funds for the Borderlands Growth Deal.

Colin Smyth MSP said, “The Borderlands partners were given a very clear deadline by the Secretary of State for Scotland to submit detailed proposals for the Borderlands Growth Deal and were promised that if they met that deadline the plans would be considered in the budget. The failure to pledge funding in the budget in an utter betrayal by the UK Government and shows you simply cannot trust a word the Secretary of State for Scotland says. This budget means we are no further forward in terms of Government financial support for the Borderlands than we were this time last year. At a time when the local economy is on its knees, people in South Scotland are sick and tired of warm words and platitudes from Government. The time for hard cash is now.”

Colin Smyth has also criticised the budget for failing to deliver the recent claims by the Prime Minister that, “austerity is over”. 

Colin Smyth MSP said, “The budget was a real Halloween horror show of broken promises. The Prime Minister promised the people that austerity would end, but this budget fails to deliver that”

“Low paid workers in our area will continue to struggle on poverty pay and our social security system will continue to impose a two-child cap on tax credits which is shameful”

“Now more than ever we need a radical Labour government that will truly end austerity by increasing investment in our local services and the Borderlands agreement,  extend public ownership and deliver a £10 per hour real living wage”.