Year of challenge for Fife business

John Silcok, President, Fife Chamber of Commerce
John Silcok, President, Fife Chamber of Commerce

Politicians must end the battle over Scotland’s constitution and focus instead on securing a stable economic recovery in 2015 and beyond.

So argued John Silcock as he considered the challenges and opportunities which lay ahead for local companies in his new year address as president of Fife Chamber of Commerce.

“The focus of the Scottish Government in 2014 was, understandably, on constitutional matters and there is clearly now a need to finalise the implementation of the Smith Commission recommendations with the UK Government as a matter of urgency,” he said.

“It is essential that the views of the business community are taken into account in that process. For 2015, the focus of the Scottish Government must be on issues beyond the constitution – and the economy must be a key part of that focus, particularly on issues relating to business rates and the promotion of business development opportunities at home and overseas.”

Confidence in Fife’s business community had grown last year, as evidenced by local firms investing in new plant and equipment, in developing new markets and in staff recruitment and development, Mr Silcock commented.

Companies such as Heil Farid, Fife Farbrication and Diageo illustrated that fact, he said, alongside work on two of the UK’s biggest engineering projects - the new Queensferry Crossing and the construction of the two aircraft carriers by Babcock in Rosyth.

“The challenge we face as we move in to the New Year is to build on this impressive performance and these positive trends – and that is no small challenge given current economic and political issues in Europe and beyond.”

One Fife business which performed particularly well in 2014 as a result of major investment in recent years, was Carr’s Flour Mill.

Finance director George Wishart explained development at the Kirkcaldy site had created the most “modern flourmilling facility in Europe” aided with support from Fife Council, Scottish Enterprise and holding company Carr’s Milling Industries Plc, who funded the project.

“The new facility has attracted huge interest and thus visitors from the flourmill and baking industries as well as city analysts and investors raising the profile of both the company and the area,” commented Mr Wishart.

“With the operational and commercial benefits of the projects matching and in some instances exceeding our initial projections confidence in the local workforce is such that the area may well benefit from further significant investment in future years.”

Angus Fotheringhame, UK manager of Nairns, said 2014 had also been a “positive year” for the linoleum firm despite many uncertainties and risks, and he believed 2015 would be positive too.

“All markets are already highly competitive and economic conditions are not easy but we try to focus on what we can do and let others worry about factors which are truly out with our control,” he commented.

The firm had invested £10 million in its UK factories over the past three years to innovate products, improve services and fulfill environmental goals and were launching 10 new ranges in the first six months of 2015.

“So if anything for us the challenge is to cope with all of this development whilst not placing too onerous expectations on our hard working teams,” he said.

Mr Silcock, meanwhile, used his new year address to emphasise the crucial role Fife Council played in developing business in the Kingdom, and insisted it should not deflect from this despite significant challenges in meeting its budget in the coming year.

He said: “In Fife we need the Council to continue with its work to promote Fife as a great place to do business through improved local procurement, the promotion of opportunities for the construction sector and reducing the regulatory burden on businesses as promised.”

Lorraine Gardiner, co-owner of Love Restored, a vintage furniture shop established on Kirkcaldy High Street two years ago, agreed 2014 had been an encouraging year and confidence among consumers was growing.

But she believed the local authority needed to pay particular attention to the needs of small independent businesses in town centres.

“On the ground, more needs to be done in terms of parking for consumers,” she commented.

“Free car parking or loyalty incentives would help encourage people to use their High Street again as opposed to the convenience of out of town retailing and this is something the Council should push forward without hesitation.

“Additionally, rates and rents are still geared towards multinational companies, restricting opportunities for great small independent businesses starting up in the High Street.”

Pledge to promote the voice of business

John Silcock vowed Fife Chamber of Commerce would continue to “promote the voice of business at all levels of government and provide support for local businesses and opportunities for development”.

Looking to the General Election, he stressed issues regarding business taxation, business-education links and exporting had to feature strongly in government policy and action.

“We will renew our efforts to grow our membership over the year ahead and build on our contribution to the growth of the local economy on issues such as better school-business links and improved digital connectivity”, he said. “We will also celebrate the success of Fife businesses at the Fife Business Awards in March – there is a great deal to celebrate!”

He concluded: “I would like to take this opportunity to wish all Fife businesses – members and non-members alike – a successful and prosperous New Year.”