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Region’s business leaders share hopes and fears for 2024

There's plenty of optimism tempered with a hefty dose of caution, Peter Ranscombe discovers.

Woman runner at the start line for 2024.
On your marks, get set, go. Image: Shutterstock

What’s in store for firms across the north and north-east in 2024?

Business leaders we spoke to are bullish about prospects…

Jacqueline Law, managing partner at law firm Aberdein Considine

Jacqueline Law, of Aberdein Considine.
Jacqueline Law, of Aberdein Considine. Image: Peter Ranscombe

“After a challenging year, I’m cautiously optimistic about 2024. A significant segment of our business has felt the impact of a more subdued housing market, driven by escalating borrowing and living costs.

“I’m hopeful we are starting to see greater lender confidence, which will drive improved mortgages rates in 2024 and, in turn, see an upswing in home mover confidence.

“Post pandemic, the largest challenge for law firms has been retention and recruitment of staff, while also adjusting to demand for continued flexible working. We will continue in 2024 to further expand and develop our legal teams to ensure we best serve our clients’ needs.”

Karen Saint, co-owner at Inverness restaurant Hou Hou Mei

Karen and JP Saint, who run Hou Hou Mei in Inverness.
Karen and JP Saint, who run Hou Hou Mei in Inverness. Image: Peter Ranscombe

“Like many in the industry, concerns around the cost-of-living continue to be front of mind, from rising ingredient and operating costs to customers limiting spending.

“But Hou Hou Mei has been on an upward trajectory, thanks to our amazing team and customers. We hope to build on this in 2024, with lots of projects and
ideas in the pipeline.

“We also hope the hospitality industry in the Highlands continues to thrive, and look forward to building on our reputation as a restaurant that offers a different type of cuisine and dining experience for the Inverness food scene.”

Yvonne Crook, chairwoman of Highland Tourism and Highland Renewables

Yvonne Crook, of Highland Tourism and Highland Renewables.
Yvonne Crook. Image: Peter Ranscombe

“Our hopes are that our business and wider community seize a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ to think big, strategically, cross-sector and put our natural capital at the forefront of future investment.

“We see our tourism, renewables, life sciences, education, and food and drink sectors coming together with our world-leading culture and heritage to uniquely differentiate the Highlands as a place to live, work, visit, invest and study.

“And we see a world-leading presentation of the Highlands as a sustainable destination, attracting world-leading rewilding initiatives and environmental restorative investment from visitors who recognise our passion for putting more back into our
environment than we take

“Our worst fear is that we do what we always did and get what we always got.”

Sarah Medcraf, chief executive of Moray Chamber of Commerce

Sarah Medcraf, of Moray Chamber of Commerce.
Sarah Medcraf. Image: Peter Ranscombe

“I hope for economic recovery fuelled by innovation and collaboration. I also hope for elected officials, local authorities and governments to immerse themselves in conversations with the business community.

“Finally, I hope leaders feel supported and are brave enough in uncertain times to take risks with investment, explore new markets and invest in their people.

“But we must not turn a blind eye to the constant challenges. We need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

“While we will continue to lobby for policies that support growth and sustainability, we need to navigate the ever-changing landscape and turn challenges in to opportunities.”

Rachel Barrie, master blender at Brown-Forman’s Benriach, Glendronach, and Glenglassaugh distilleries

Rachel Barrie, .of Brown-Forman.
Rachel Barrie. Image: Peter Ranscombe

“I am very optimistic about 2024. With Glenglassaugh just voted No. 1 whisky of the year 2023 by Whisky Advocate, and old and rare bottlings planned, Glenglassaugh will be in the spotlight in 2024.

“It will also be a big year for The Glendronach as the distillery enters its next phase of growth and continues to raise the bar in creating the most exquisite sherry cask matured single malt.

“Innovation is a big focus as we continue to gain insights from around the globe in developing the whiskies of the future.

“New year fears include the age-old unpredictability of the weather influencing supply, and geopolitics and taxes influencing demand. Some things never change.”

Professor Elizabeth Gammie, dean of Aberdeen Business School at Robert Gordon University

Professor Elizabeth Gammie, of Robert Gordon University.
Professor Elizabeth Gammie. Image: Peter Ranscombe

“There are three key areas that would go a long way to making 2024 a success for businesses.

“Firstly, an accelerated and supported transition to renewable energy which uses our own resources to foster stability in supply.

“Secondly, a reduction in interest rates to boost the economy and help households to balance their finances.

“And thirdly, a tax regime that supports growth across the UK and encourages and rewards enterprise.

“Contrastingly, continued underfunding in Scottish education will adversely affect the skills development of the future workforce and nation as a whole.

“Meanwhile, a despairing lack of resolution in global conflicts will, inevitably, result in a continuation of economic uncertainty.”

Jennifer Craw, chief executive of Opportunity North East (One)

Jennifer Craw, of Opportunity North East.
Jennifer Craw. Image: Peter Ranscombe

“I hope the north-east continues to build on the strengths of its talented people and exciting opportunities in its growth sectors.

“At One, we are fortunate to work with outstanding business leaders, ambitious entrepreneurs, and enterprising founders. I look forward to working together on entrepreneurship, innovation, market development and leadership, challenging and inspiring one another and translating ideas and positive energy into transformational
projects, impactful action and investment, and sustainable business growth in 2024.

“That will deliver more high-skill jobs for the people who live and work here now and for future generations across our communities. I’m an optimist.

“A regional, national and international period of stability for all of us would be enormously welcome.”

Jeremy Leggett, chief executive of Highlands Rewilding

Jeremy Leggett, of Highland Rewilding.
Jeremy Leggett. Image: Nicholas White

“Many businesses are now engaged in humanity’s fightback against the existential threats of climate meltdown and biodiversity collapse. Nothing is more important than this, because failure involves horrors, including breakdown of social cohesion, on which the conduct of good business depends.

“My fear is that we fail. My hope is that progressive businesses will build enough beacons for hope, to guide others, that a societal survival-reflex forms.

Highlands Rewilding will continue trying to build such a beacon in 2024. Our aim is to help entice the first private financial institution to make a major investment in the embryonic nature-recovery industry.”

Neil Kermode, managing director at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney

Neil Kermode, of the European Marine Energy Centre.
Neil Kermode. Image: Peter Ranscombe

“I fear we have left it too late to tackle climate change and the political consensus around COP in Glasgow and Dubai is being watered down by incumbent energy interests.

“My hope is that we wake up and take decisive and clear action to end the burning of fossil fuels and build a clean sustainable future. This needs to be as immediate as
possible and far earlier than the limp targets set out so far.

“We are not on track, and we need to get on track, fast.”

Alasdair Green, head of energy at accountancy firm AAB

Alasdair Green, head of energy at accountancy firm AAB
Alasdair Green. Image: Peter Ranscombe

“2023 has ended in a better place than when we started. Inflation has decreased and the base interest rate appears to have peaked at 5.25%. The UK economy has stagnated, rather than receded.

“However, the higher base interest rate will continue to be a drag on the economy and inflation needs to get much closer to the Bank of England’s target before we will see it cut.

“We can be very hopeful for a better 2024 but complex factors influence our economy, ranging from global conflict to political instability.

“The best hopes for 2024 may be for a more certain and predictable business outlook that continues, as in 2023, to be not as bad as feared.”