Finding ourselves in the midst of another Covid storm is not what any of us imagined for this New Year.
Nor did I think the start of my presidency would be marked by this.
Nonetheless, I hope – as we all do – this is just a temporary setback, just another to add to the list of immense challenges Scotland’s businesses and our employees have faced over the past year.
‘Cause for optimism’
Despite all this, it is certainly in my nature to always find fresh cause for optimism.
The various trials and tribulations of the past 12 months have demonstrated that Scotland’s economy, our business community and our people are incredibly resilient, and will rise to any and all obstacles put in front of them.
That spirit of renewed optimism which many of us felt in August and September as Scotland looked to have Covid-19 relatively under control, and many restrictions on businesses were lifted, finally unleashed pent-up consumer demand in the economy and put the country on a rapid path back towards sustained economic growth.
To every sole trader, small and medium-sized business, multinational corporate and the Scottish Chambers of Commerce (SCC) network, thank you for your dedication to keeping your customers, clients, suppliers and employees safe, for helping to protect jobs and for innovating through technology to keep our economy buoyant.
Business couldn’t have done it alone though, and our heartfelt thanks go out to Scotland’s key workers and essential frontline NHS staff who have been repeatedly asked to go above and beyond over the course of the pandemic.
Even at the height of restrictions last year, Scotland’s businesses refused to stand still, looking for new and inventive ways to bounce back.
Scotland’s economy, our business community and our people are incredibly resilient, and will rise to any and all obstacles put in front of them.”
Chambers across Scotland deeply connected within their local communities helped raise thousands of pounds for charities.
Other businesses pivoted into new models of working, new products and new ideas.
Despite restrictions on international travel, others undertook virtual trade missions which secured thousands of pounds of trade and made vital connections for Scotland’s exporters.
Innovation and willingness to collaborate and try new things without a fear of failure allowed Scottish business to play its part in supporting the economy, reviving global trade and advancing sustainability.
However, as we battle with the new Omicron wave of infections, a return to greater levels of restrictions and a potential economic slowdown, this changeable situation will leave many businesses in a precarious situation in the early days of 2022.
Businesses in hospitality who suffered a deluge of cancellations in the lead-up to Christmas have started to claim the financial support made available from the Scottish Government.
But many await pay-outs as council offices remain closed over the festive period, leaving many employers and employees uneasy and living with trepidation about what may lie ahead.
This is why it is more important than ever that not only the Scottish and UK governments work closely together to tackle the threat of the virus, but they both work in partnership with business and industry to safeguard the economy, jobs and livelihoods which are once again under threat.
Challenges, of course, lie ahead for Scotland’s business community in the next 12 months, but so do enormous opportunities.
Another ‘bump’ in the road
Businesses successfully managed to adapt to the rapidly changing world around them before and they can certainly do it again.
These latest restrictions and economic deterrents that have been put in place will create yet another bump in the already rocky road ahead for businesses and our economy,.
However, ever the optimist, I firmly believe we will see a return to pre-pandemic levels of growth before the end of this year.
Challenges, of course, lie ahead for Scotland’s business community in the next 12 months, but so do enormous opportunities.”
The Scottish Chambers of Commerce network, which I’m delighted to now represent as president, will lead the way again, fighting the corner for Scottish business at every opportunity and at the highest levels to ensure an economic recovery that works for us all is achieved in the coming years.
I’m also delighted the reach and influence of the SCC network has been recognised in the New Year Honours list, with our chief executive, Liz Cameron, and former president, Tim Allan, being made CBEs, noting their contribution to business in Scotland.
Ending on that positive news, I send my warmest regards to you and your loved ones as another extraordinary year draws to a close.
Wishing you all a peaceful and prosperous 2022.
Stephen Leckie is the new president of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce. He is also the chairman and chief executive of Crieff Hydro Family of Hotels.