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The Latest news from Dumfries and Galloway Chamber of Commerce -

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

 

Latest Economic Indicator Shows Challenges Ahead

The latest Scottish Chambers of Commerce (SCC) Quarterly Economic Indicator (QEI) survey for Q4 of 2019 shows that businesses are in a period of stasis with global and domestic factors all contributing to subdued levels of confidence and investment. The quarterly survey was carried out between November to December 2019, during the UK general election period which suggests political considerations will certainly have had some influence in how businesses responded to the survey.

 

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Key highlights:
 On business confidence: Despite signs of resilience, confidence levels remain weak relative to their long-term norms, with manufacturing, retail and tourism in negative territory for outlook.


 On business investment: Investment levels remain weak and subdued across all sectors in the survey. This has been an ongoing trend as global and domestic uncertainty continues to take its toll on business communities. This is likely to impact on the growth and competitiveness of Scotland’s economy in the coming quarters.


 On cost pressures: The price of raw materials and the cost of finance is increasing compared to previous quarters, adding to the cost burden across all sectors.


 On business concerns: Business rates feature as the most significant concern for all sectors, aside from manufacturing which cited exchanges rates as its main concerns.


The survey, conducted by Scottish Chambers of Commerce, in partnership with the Fraser of Allander Institute, is Scotland's longest-running economic survey of its kind.
Commenting on the results, Tim Allan, Chairman of the Scottish Business Advisory Group and President of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said:
“Given recent prolonged uncertainty and trading conditions, these flat results are not surprising. The business challenges prevalent in 2019 are showing signs of continuing into 2020 with business confidence at worryingly low levels.
“The decisive election result at Westminster is yet to provide the clear direction that business communities are looking for. Of particular concern to businesses will be the extent of divergence the UK Government plans to adopt between UK and EU regulation. This continued uncertainty, coupled with a continued sense of “election-style” policy making, has the potential to disrupt business planning, supply chains, as well as negatively impacting on job creation.
“We urge the UK government to clearly communicate these changes in a timely way and provide substantial support to help firms adapt – ensuring it reaches all parts of the UK. Otherwise companies will struggle to make the most of new opportunities as Britain sets its own trading polices.


“Business sustainability, economic certainty and a healthy planet are the watchwords for 2020. The role of business to leverage private sector innovation and solutions to meet the big economic and societal challenges should not be underestimated by either Holyrood or Westminster. Our message to government is clear: only by working with business will we
be able to create the fair and thriving economy that will provide jobs, stability and valued
public services.”

 

On the construction sector, Tim Allan said:
“The survey reveals that business confidence amongst construction firms is at its lowest point in almost three years with contracts at their lowest level since Q3 2017. The trends for contracts sit below their five-year average for the survey, which is concerning for the long-term health of this important sector. Firms are continuing to be affected by raw material prices and other overheads, adding to continued pressure to hold back on investment which is continuing to fall.”

 

On the manufacturing sector, Tim Allan said:
“With negative results across most of the key trends, this was another weak quarter for the sector. Business confidence has been on a downward trajectory over a series of quarters, and is significantly below the five-year average.
“An increasing number of firms continue to report recruitment difficulties. Companies are relatively downbeat about the next quarter results, with many predicting falling sales and investment.”

 

On retail and wholesale, Tim Allan said:
“The festive boost for the sector did not deliver, with sales flatlining and business confidence lower than the average for the quarter. Prolonged periods of discounting, changing consumer habits and “Black Friday” style deals impacted the overall
performance of companies.
“The sector reported business rates as a leading concern, and one that must be addressed by the Scottish Government to support retailers and our high streets.”

On tourism, Tim Allan said:
“Business confidence in the tourism sector has fallen to the lowest level in nine quarters, and well below the five-year average, whilst negative trends for cash flow, profits and sales present cause for concern. Interestingly, whilst the number of people coming from the EU was flat, the balance of visitors from outside the EU saw an increase from the previous quarter.

“Policymakers must be alert to the challenges facing the tourism sector, one of the gems in Scotland’s diverse economy, with a focus to tackle the sector’s concerns, namely business rates & taxation.”

 

On financial and business services, Tim Allan said:
“With around half of firms expecting to see no changes to levels of investment, it’s clear the sector is continuing to place key investment decisions on hold in the midst of ongoing uncertainty. Recruitment difficulties continue to weigh on the minds of companies as attracting suitable talent continues to take its toll.’’

 

Commenting on the results, Professor Graeme Roy, Director at the University of
Strathclyde's Fraser of Allander Institute, said:
“These latest results from the Scottish Chambers of Commerce Quarterly Economic Indicator, suggest that the positive but challenging conditions many sectors faced in 2019 have continued into 2020. This is not that surprising.
“The global outlook continues to remain fragile. Here at home, last month’s data showed economic growth tracking at less than 1% over the 12 months to September, marking another year of below par performance for the Scottish economy.
“And whilst December’s decisive General Election result removed any immediate threat of crashing out of the EU with ‘no deal’, it is important to remember that this was just the end of the phase 1 negotiations, and the decisive end-point for agreeing an all-important trade deal is less than 12 months away.”

Trade Association Supporting Big Energy Saving Week By Sharing Advice On Cutting Fuel Bills

Liquid fuels distribution trade association the UK and Ireland Fuel Distributors Association (UKIFDA), is this week supporting, Big Energy Saving Week, the national week-long campaign, by urging households warmed by heating oil to take positive steps to better manage their energy use and save money in the process.

 

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Organised by Citizens Advice every year, the Big Energy Saving Week campaign raises awareness of the simple ways we can all increase our energy efficiency and reduce our energy costs.

UKIFDA has lots of advice for the 1.5m oil-fuelled households across the UK on steps they can take to use less fuel and save money as well as have a positive impact on the environment.

"A warm house is what everyone wants in the winter - and there are ways to achieve this that don't hurt people's bank balance or the planet," says Guy Pulham, UKIFDA Chief Executive.

"This is why we are supporting Big Energy Saving Week as it is such a great opportunity to get people thinking about their energy consumption and find a way to be more energy efficient.

"The good news for customers using liquid fuels to heat their homes is the value for money this fuel type offers. The latest report from Sutherland Tables, a recognised independent source of comparative domestic heating prices, on 31st October 2019, highlighted that oil is still one of the cheapest forms of energy for off-grid homes compared to electricity and LPG and compared to 2018 heating oil prices, in the latter part of 2019 in most regions were down by between 2% and 8%.  Furthermore, customers are able to shop around to find the most competitive supplier of heating oil, and when it comes to improving the environmental impact the industry is working towards a biofuel to replace heating oil.

"Biofuels would enable customers to switch to a more environmentally friendly fuel with lower carbon emissions and without the need to change the heating system or a large upfront investment - for example, a modern condensing boiler would support a 30% blend of biofuel with kerosene and this boiler uses almost all the fuel for maximum efficiency."

During this year's Big Energy Saving Week, UKIFDA has advice and considerations for households wanting to stay warm this winter and save money:

  • Bleed your radiators to boost heating efficiency
  • Consider upgrading your thermostat to a modern one that enables you to set different temperatures in each room so you only heat the rooms you need, when you need them
  • Turn your thermostat down by 1 degree to make a 10% saving
  • Service your boiler annually, to ensure it works efficiently and help avoid costly breakdowns. To find your nearest OFTEC registered heating technician visit https://www.oftec.org/consumers/find-a-technician
  • Check your oil tank regularly for cracking, sag, discolouration and any unusual sign of wear and tear.
  • Upgrade your boiler if it is old (more than 15 years) to a condensing boiler. This can reduce your fuel consumption and carbon emissions by up to 20%, helping you make further savings both financially and environmentally
  • Ensure you order fuel from UKIFDA registered heating oil suppliers who all follow a code of practice by visiting https://www.oilsave.org.uk/distributor-search/
  • Check grants and benefits availability to make sure you're getting the help you're entitled to, such as the Winter Fuel Allowance

SCOTTISH NATIONAL INVESTMENT BANK GIVEN GREEN LIGHT BY MSPs HOLYROOD PASSES PLAN TO TRANSFORM DUMFRIES & GALLOWAY ECONOMY

SNP MSP Joan McAlpine has said the new Scottish National Investment bank will help encourage economic growth across Dumfries and Galloway, after the bill to introduce the body was formally agreed to in Holyrood today.

 

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MSPs from all parties gave their backing to the Scottish Government’s blueprint for the investment bank that will begin investing in businesses and communities later this year – committing to invest at least £2 billion in its first ten years.

The bank will have an important role in helping Scotland meet its ambitious climate change targets - forming part of the SNP’s Green New Deal to kick-start investment and build the momentum needed to reduce emissions and create high quality jobs in the process.  

Commenting, SNP MSP Joan McAlpine said:

“The Scottish National Investment Bank will help us reach our world-leading climate change targets while transforming communities here in Dumfries and Galloway.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our local economy, that’s why the bank will invest in firms and community projects that are looking to play their part in tackling the global climate emergency.

“Individuals, and small local businesses, the length and breadth of Scotland are set to benefit from this historic move as we move towards a low carbon economy fit for the future. I look forward to seeing the bank’s impact in Dumfries and Galloway.”

UK SET TO INTRODUCE ‘JACK’S LAW’ – NEW LEGAL RIGHT TO PAID PARENTAL BEREAVEMENT LEAVE

 

  • Working parents who lose a child under the age of 18 will get two weeks’ statutory leave
  • The new legal right to two weeks’ paid bereavement leave, to be called ‘Jack’s Law’, is a world first
  • Parental bereavement leave is the first of a raft of new employment reforms to make the UK the best place in the world to work and to start a business

Parents who suffer the devastating loss of a child will be entitled to two weeks’ statutory leave, Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom announced today as she laid new regulations in Parliament.

The Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay Regulations, which will be known as Jack’s Law in memory of Jack Herd whose mother Lucy campaigned tirelessly on the issue, will implement a statutory right to a minimum of two weeks’ leave for all employed parents if they lose a child under the age of 18, or suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy, irrespective of how long they have worked for their employer.

This is the most generous offer on parental bereavement pay and leave in the world, set to take effect from April.

Parents will be able to take the leave as either a single block of two weeks, or as two separate blocks of one week each taken at different times across the first year after their child’s death. This means they can match their leave to the times they need it most, which could be in the early days or over the first anniversary.

 

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Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom said:

“There can be few worse experiences in life than the loss of a child and I am proud that this government is delivering ‘Jack’s Law’, making us the first country in the word to do so.

“When it takes effect, Jack’s Law will be a fitting testament to the tireless efforts of Lucy Herd, alongside many charities, to give parents greater support.”

Lucy Herd said:

“In the immediate aftermath of a child dying, parents have to cope with their own loss, the grief of their wider family, including other children, as well as a vast amount of administrative paperwork and other arrangements. A sudden or accidental death may require a post-mortem or inquest; there is a funeral to arrange; and there are many other organisations to contact, from schools to benefit offices.

“When I started this campaign ten years ago after the death of my son Jack, I always hoped that a positive change would happen in his memory. Knowing that nearly ten years of campaigning has helped create ‘Jack’s Law’ is the most wonderful feeling, but it is bittersweet at the same time. I am so grateful to all those involved who have helped make this possible. I was told many times that I would not succeed but Jack’s Law will now ensure that bereaved parents are better protected in the future.”

 

Kevin Hollinrake MP, the sponsor of the original Private Member’s Bill, said:

“Losing a child is every parent’s worst fear, but no-one could ever fully understand the utter devastation of such a loss. Whilst most employers are compassionate and generous in these situations, some are not, so I was delighted to be able to help make leave for bereaved parents a legal right.”

Clea Harmer, Chief Executive at Sands, said:

“Sands welcomes and fully supports the new Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay Act, that will ensure all bereaved parents will have a right to at least two weeks’ paid leave from work in addition to their existing parental leave entitlement.

“Having the legal right to two weeks of paid leave will make a big difference to bereaved parents affected by stillbirth or neonatal death; so we are very pleased that they have been specifically recognised in the Act. 

“All employers need to ensure they know about this important change in the law and what additional support they can offer to bereaved parents in their workplace, as this is vital time for them in their grieving process.”

 

Steven Wibberley, Chief Executive of Cruse Bereavement Care, said:

 

“We are delighted that the new paid bereavement leave entitlement is one step closer to coming into force. It will make a huge difference to bereaved parents across the country, whose lives have been shattered by the death of a child.

“I cannot stress enough how important it is that parents are given time and space to grieve in the aftermath of a child’s death. Support from employers can play a huge part in this. We are pleased the Government has laid out the minimum provision for bereaved parents, and we know many employers will go much further than this.

“We look forward to working with the Government to ensure employers know about these changes, and to support bereaved parents in their workforce.”

 

Alison Penny, Coordinator of the National Bereavement Alliance said:

“Many parents are forced to make hard choices about returning to work at a desperately difficult time following their child’s death, fearing loss of pay or job security if they take time off.

“We welcome the significant step the Government has made in introducing minimum provision for parents, and would like to see employers demonstrate a genuine commitment to grieving colleagues by treating them compassionately and with the support they need.”

 

Sarah Harris Director of Bereavement Support and Education at Child Bereavement UK added:

“Child Bereavement UK welcomes this change in legislation and the recognition it gives to the impact of the death of a child.

“The opportunity for leave at a time that feels right for bereaved parents will help reduce a potential source of additional stress, and paid leave will give time to make decisions based on need rather than financial situation.”

Around 7,500 child deaths, including around 3,000 stillbirths, occur in the UK every year. The Government estimates that this new entitlement will help to support around 10,000 parents a year.

The right to parental bereavement leave and pay makes the UK one of a very few countries worldwide to offer such support, and the first to offer a full two weeks. It will come into force on 6 April 2020, subject to Parliamentary approval of the legislation being laid today. Parents employed in a job for six months or more will also be able to claim statutory pay for this period, in line with the approach for other parental entitlements, such as paternity leave and pay.

This new law arrives ahead of the Government’s new Employment Bill, announced in the Queen’s Speech in December, which will introduce a raft of further measures to benefit workers and businesses including carer’s leave and neonatal pay.

MSP CALLS ON SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT TO DO MORE TO UTILISE THE ECONOMIC POTENTIAL OF ROBERT BURNS FOR DUMFRIES AND GALLOWAY

South of Scotland Labour MSP Colin Smyth has called on the Scottish Government to do more to help utilise the economic potential of Robert Burns for Dumfries and Galloway.

The local MSP was speaking during a debate in the Scottish Parliament yesterday (21 January) on the economic legacy of Burns, where he urged the Scottish Government to give its backing to plans.

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A recent report carried out by the Centre for Robert Burns Studies revealed that in Dumfries and Galloway an estimated value of £21 million was assigned to Burns as a tourist brand, just a sixth of the £121 million generated in Ayrshire and Arran.

The report shows that while Burns makes a vital contribution to the region’s economy, Dumfries can - as the report states - “with some conviction be presented as the Burns Town as much as Ayr”.

In particular, the report highlights Ellisland farm - the home Burns built to bring his family together for the first time and where he wrote many famous verses, including Auld Lang Syne.

The Ellisland Farm Trust has developed exciting plans to preserve Burn’s legacy and transform Burns home into a world class visitor attraction and the report describes the proposals as potentially “transformative” and believes delivering them “would alone do much to increase Burns visitor concentration in the Dumfries area”.

However, while the potential for Ellisland farm is enormous, help will be needed to deliver the plans.

As a councillor in 2014, Colin Smyth helped launch the Burns trail which goes across Dumfries and beyond.

Speaking during the debate, Colin Smyth told Parliament: “When we launched the Burns trail I hoped it would be the start of a wider promotion and recognition of the breadth of the physical legacy of Burns’s time in the area.

“I would strongly urge the Scottish Government to consider carefully the recommendations of this report and in particular how it can get behind the plans for Ellisland, to help deliver the full economic and culture legacy of Scotland’s national bard. 

“Dumfriesshire already has a lot to see when it comes to Burns, just look at the huge number of events taking place as part of the Big Burns Supper Festival which starts in Dumfries on Friday.

“However, while many people know that Dumfries is the place where Rabbie Burns died, there is so much more to be discovered and we want the rest of the world to know this.

“I hope the Scottish Government will take on board the recommendations of this report and help Dumfries to benefit from this historic and important connection.”