Fasten your seatbelts because Scotland’s economy is finally taking off once again.
Report after report shows economic performance, alongside business and consumer confidence is rebounding far better than anyone could have anticipated as we power towards recovery from the twin challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and the impact of leaving the European Union.
That’s not to say business recovery won’t be without its challenges, of which there are many.
But it does provide a much-needed uplift to the outlook of those firms that have been so severely tested over the past year and a half.
It gives us renewed hope that we can reach pre-pandemic levels of GDP (gross domestic product) as early as the middle of next year.
The Scottish Government, acutely aware of the fragility of Scotland’s economy, has set out its plans for the coming year and rightly placed recovery from the pandemic at the heart of its legislative programme.
Holyrood’s ‘mixed bag’
There was much to be welcomed in the Programme for Government published earlier this month, particularly around commitments to continued business rates relief and support for small and medium-sized enterprises.
But the overall package was a mixed bag, with plans to remove businesses rights through the Non-Domestic Rates Covid-19 Appeals Bill.
There remains a gaping hole in the centre of the Scottish economic picture.
In the subsequent Holyrood debate on the government’s plans, Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said she wanted to create a “pro-prosperity, pro-business and pro-jobs environment”, which after a tough year, is music to the ears of Scotland’s business community.
The real test though is whether these warm words will be reflected in real-world policies affecting Scotland’s businesses.
A key area that was missing from the government’s plans was a commitment to get Scotland’s airports and aviation sector operating again at as near to pre-pandemic levels as is possible.
Scotland’s airports and aviation industry are essential parts of the national economic jigsaw.
Without additional support and a strategy to get the sector going again, there remains a gaping hole in the centre of the Scottish economic picture.
The government itself describe tourism as one of Scotland’s “most important industries, helping to create wealth and jobs and build upon our strong international reputation”.
Reopening Scotland in a safe and secure way must be a priority to help boost our overall economic recovery.
Research shows that spending by tourists in Scotland generates around £12 billion of economic activity for the wider Scottish supply chain and contributes around £6bn to Scottish GDP, representing about 5% of total Scottish GDP.
It’s too critical a part of our economy to be allowed to fail.
Rebuilding connections ‘essential’
Scotland’s international competitiveness, connectivity and exporting capacity has also been badly damaged by the pandemic and Brexit, so rebuilding connections, repairing supply chains and getting back into international markets is essential for our businesses.
The Programme for Government commitments to grow Scotland’s international reach and reputation are welcome.
Our network of chambers is leading the way to showcase the innovative and high-quality products and services that Scottish businesses have to offer the world at upcoming global gatherings, including COP26 and Dubai Expo.
Crucial to enabling Scotland’s exports is a full reopening of the international travel sector and while the commitments to restore lost connectivity go some way to achieving this, what the sector needs is urgent support through a dedicated Scottish aviation strategy.
This vital element remains missing from the government’s overall strategy and industry will want to see this addressed as quickly as possible.
Without a doubt, Scotland’s economy and businesses are starting to recover – some sectors more quickly than others – but all of us are likely to suffer some turbulence before we once again see clear skies ahead.
Words alone will not spur the economy into action, and the government must work in partnership with industry on recovery and growth if we are to protect jobs and businesses and secure our place in the global economy.
Liz Cameron is chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce.