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20 April 2017, 07:05
Business leaders are calling for ''targeted'' tax cuts after a new survey revealed that Scotland's economy remains ''subdued''.
The Scottish Chambers of Commerce's quarterly economic indicator for the first quarter of the year found a mixed picture, with business optimism in tourism, retail and wholesale negative but finance and business services having the most positive outlook since the end of 2014.
The report found profitability and cashflow ''remain challenging'' and pressure on prices is high.
Finance and business service firms were said to be at a ''turning point'', with many key balances improved including sales revenue despite two years of negative net balances for profits and cash flow.
Business optimism in construction remains positive but has fallen 18 percentage points in a year while manufacturing optimism rose nine percentage points in the same period with ''strong'' export sales.
More than a third (36%) of retail and wholesale businesses reported falling optimism and the sectors recorded declines in cash flow, sales employment, profitability and capacity.
In tourism, the number of customers was up 13 percentage points on last year but sales revenue fell by the same amount. Investment and employment have declined over the quarter.
The number of tourism businesses reporting declining cashflows hit a record low which the report said this may be due to falling guest numbers from overseas.
Scottish Chambers of Commerce economic advisory group chairman Neil Amner said: ''In January, our survey warned that Scotland's economy stood on a knife-edge and these latest figures point to continued subdued performance in the early part of this year.
''However, the picture across the various sectors is less even than it was at the end of 2016, with the manufacturing sector recording very encouraging results, again driven by exports.
''The financial and business-services sector has also rebounded significantly from its position at the beginning of 2016, though this is at least in part as a result of a significant improvement in the prospects of oil and gas service sector businesses from a low base.
''The outlook for construction is again fairly flat and performance in both retail and wholesale, and in tourism, looks to be negative in comparison to the same period last year, though the first quarter has in the past proved to be a difficult period seasonally for both sectors.''
Mr Amner said the political situation with Brexit, a general election and moves for a second Scottish independence referendum was creating ''uncertainty'', and called for the Scottish and UK governments to prioritise business to enable job creation and investment.
He said: ''As we approach a general election, we expect the political parties to pledge targeted tax cuts, potentially including a temporary cut in VAT, in order to bolster consumer demand.''
The survey was carried out in conjunction with the Fraser of Allander Institute between February 20 and March 13, with 470 firms responding.
Economy Secretary Keith Brown MSP said: "The latest report from the Scottish Chamber of Commerce shows encouraging signs with the highest levels of optimism in the financial and business services sector since the end of 2014, which may reflect the fact that over a third of oil and gas businesses are now more positive about the future.
"It also shows that firms continue to be optimistic about the future and a strong performance in the Scottish manufacturing sector.
"The fundamentals of Scotland's economy are strong, despite the heightened uncertainty that has been created by the UK's decision to leave the EU.
"The Scottish Government's twin approach of growing the economy and tackling inequality will be at the heart of our efforts to meet the challenges that lie ahead.''