Scotland’s Businesses Swimming Against the Current


Reading the news for the last few years has not been a great deal of fun. Every other business and economy article has been telling stories of doom and gloom, job losses, double dip recession. It has felt like we are in some sort of economic dark age. British GDP has fallen behind Iceland and Ireland, those small countries that the pro union supporters have told us will mirror Scotland’s fate should we dare to go it alone. Troubled times indeed.

But not for everyone, some of Scotland’s traditional industries are showing signs that for some at least the picture is not so dire;

4 Years ago the Harris tweed industry looked to be in sharp decline. Small artisan weavers were closing down and the workforce were ageing. A once thriving cottage industry (literally) was going to the wall. Then the Harris Tweed Liaison Group was formed from a mix of industry experts and council leaders. They began to explore new markets, especially in the Far East. Now exports to Japan count for nearly 50% of Harris tweed mill output. They have even exported to Middle Earth with harris tweed clothing being used in the upcoming ‘Hobbit’ movie.

In the last three years the weavers in Harris have produced enough cloth to stretch from Tarbert to Boston in the USA!

Just last year Barrie Knitwear, a Borders based cashmere clothing firm was in dire straights. A massive pension shortfall was about to see the factory close for ever and 170 workers loosing their jobs. Just last week though the companies biggest customer, French Couture brand Chanel, stepped in to buy the firm and secure every job in the factory. The cashmere industry contributes around £200 million a year to the Scottish economy and saving the factory will play a vital role in keeping the industry alive.

And then there is our national drink. The whisky industry has seen its fair share of disasters. Most famously the Pattisons of Leith collapse in 1899 led to the closure of a huge number of distilleries all over Scotland. Many more distilleries were mothballed in the 1970s and 80s during the recession. Since then the industry has learned to ‘work smart’; clever marketing and brand placement has kept the more successful distilleries in profit. Though many are now owned by outside interests such as Ricard or or Diageo or even the Japanese they still contribute to the economy, in fact the whisky industry now contributes around £4 Billion, not half bad! And those large companies are not just sitting back and reaping the benefits, just last week Diageo announced it will be investing around £1 Billion in improving its portfolio of distilleries. Their plans to upgrade the Glen Ord distillery alone will increase output from this one plant by around 5 million litres of spirit a year. Not only that but they are planning to open up new distilleries possibly on the sites of long since mothballed ones breathing new life into the industry and bringing back long lamented labels!

Even our humble little enterprise has seen positive signs of late. 2008 Was our ‘annus horribilis’. We came dangerously close to the edge which for a small family firm was not a pleasant experience. We tightened things up and rode out the storm and things have began to turn around, just last August we recorded the best August figures since we started and from the look of things our busy periods of November December could break records again, and thats before we talk about the boost that the year of homecoming in 2014 will bring.

So while we read another story about Scotland’s unemployment figures increasing again lets not forget that there are still areas that are swimming against the current and with a little more encouragement maybe we can start to all move that way too.

(oh and by the way the Scottish Salmon industry is doing not too shabbily either; Scotland is now the third largest supplier of farmed salmon in the world and salmon farmers contribute over £500 million a year to the economy)


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