Gordon Henderson: Grounds for optimism in 2014

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The Capital’s roads are open again, trams are running and will soon carry passengers, the city centre’s Christmas attractions are reporting record figures, new hotels are in the offing, new routes are being announced at the airport, and our members are feeling confident about the year ahead.

Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) research shows increased confidence and profit margins for small businesses for the first time in two years and national economic indicators such as employment rates and GDP figures also suggest that the economy is on the mend. With more small businesses turning a profit, more planning to invest and more ready to start hiring, the signs are that we’re laying the foundations for a sustainable recovery.

But, we’re not out of the woods yet and any complacency about Edinburgh’s good figures could see us let this recovery slip though our fingers. I’d like to see a city region focus in 2014 rather than a purely inside the bypass one, this would help to ensure that the regions that neighbour Edinburgh, where so many of those who contribute to the city’s impressive productivity figures live, benefit from the recovery too and continue to serve the capital so well.

Edinburgh’s economy continues to sit among the highest performers in the UK but it is worrying that the FSB research shows one in four businesses reporting difficulty in obtaining skilled staff. The FSB in Scotland has argued that educational decision-makers must redouble their efforts to get people ready for the modern workplace, so I’m pleased to see that Edinburgh College’s principal, Mandy Exley, is leading on the Edinburgh Business Forum’s skills strategy to look at this.

As well as the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup taking place in 2014 the other big event is, of course, the referendum on Scotland’s future; the eyes of the world will be on Scotland and its capital city, Edinburgh.

Small business owners, like other citizens, need to understand how institutions with which they must deal every day will operate in the future. Both sides of the debate have a duty to get into the nitty-gritty but we haven’t yet seen a compelling small business case compiled by either side.

The FSB won’t be a bystander this debate, nor will we get bounced around by political campaigns looking for someone else to make their case for them. We’ll be asking our members what sort of issues they want to see addressed before they decide how to vote – and then we’ll do our level best to find the right person to give them a decent answer. What we won’t be doing is telling our members how to vote.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

• Gordon Henderson is senior development manager at the Federation of Small Businesses