Scotland business

Tourism leads upbeat Scottish economic outlook

Edinburgh Castle Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption The tourism sector appears to be confident about the future

Tourism leads an upbeat new assessment of the Scottish economy, with strong signs of recent growth and expectations of a positive start to 2017.

The Royal Bank of Scotland Business Monitor shows transport and communications also performing well.

About 400 firms across a range of sectors in the Scottish economy were questioned.

The findings contradict other recent survey evidence suggesting confidence being hit by Brexit uncertainty.

The RBS survey was carried out by the Fraser of Allander Institute at Strathclyde University, and balances those firms with positive results against those reporting negatively.

Continuing difficulties

A total of 36% of firms reported an increase in total volume of business during the last quarter compared with 25% which reported a fall.

There were similar measures for new business, though firms in north-east Scotland reflected the continuing difficulties of winning business amid the downturn in the oil and gas sector.

The figures were strongest for the central belt and the Highlands and Islands.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The weak pound appears not to have helped Scottish exports as much as hoped

Despite the pound weakening, which should make it easier to export, this survey went against the signals seen in other evidence, by reporting a seventh consecutive quarter of weak overseas sales.

Just 12% of firms reported export activity rising, with 26% saying they saw a fall in the last quarter.

Unlike the Purchasing Managers Index, published at the start of this week, it also found manufacturing doing worse than other sectors.

The rise in the legal minimum wage has put up costs across the economy, and particularly in construction, tourism and distribution.

'Solid but unspectacular'

And in capital investment - seen as vital to maintaining growth momentum through next year - the RBS survey found 40% of firms reporting a rise compared with 16% saying there has been a fall. The positive gap between those two is the widest in more than two years.

Stephen Boyle, chief economist with the Royal Bank of Scotland said: "This Christmas we can raise a festive glass for Scotland's economy that's more than half full.

"Our businesses are ending the year on a positive note, with solid if unspectacular growth. They expect more of the same in the first half of 2017.

"Particularly encouraging is strongly-rising capital investment, a sign both of confidence in the future and of businesses' ability to look beyond political uncertainty.

"If the New Year brings any hangovers they are likely to come from rising cost pressures - brought about by the weaker pound and the National Living Wage - and continued poor export performance."

Prof Graeme Roy, director of the Fraser of Allander Institute, said: "The volume of business activity is at its highest level in over a year with businesses reporting turnover at its highest level in over two years.

"That being said, expectations for turnover and investment are down on the quarter suggesting that the outlook for 2017, whilst improved, remains uncertain."

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