This Tuesday, 15th November, saw the annual West Lothian Economic Conference 2011 take place at the Howden Park Centre in Livingston. Organised by the West Lothian Economic Partnership, a group of organisations who have an interest in the West Lothian economy and includes: West Lothian Council, Scottish Enterprise, West Lothian Chamber of Commerce, West Lothian College, Jobcentre Plus, Skills Development Scotland and the Federation of Small Business.
The theme of this year’s conference was “Growing in West Lothian” and aimed to look at “West Lothian’s place in the current Scottish Economy and identify the growth opportunities for local firms to continue to drive the economic recovery in West Lothian”
With West Lothian being the first home of Escape, having established our head office in Livingston back in 2000, I read with interest the invitation to the event which highlighted that “The West Lothian Economy is bouncing back strongly” and that it was experiencing a “faster fall in unemployment than any other Scottish authority between 2010 and 2011.” Good news I’m sure you will agree!
The programme of speakers gave 3 quite different perspectives on the recession, recovery and future of the West Lothian Economy with Dave McDougall, Chief Executive of West Lothian Chamber of Commerce providing a warm welcome to the audience of local business owners and employees from Scotland’s “First Capital of Enterprise”.
Professor Donald MacRae, Chief Economist, Lloyds Banking Group Scotland, a seasoned speaker at the annual conference, was the evening’s first speaker. His alternative title of “Recession is it over or what?” pinpointed the question we were all looking to be answered. Whilst he wasn’t able to give specific predictions, who can at the moment, he did provide information on Scotland’s (and in particular West Lothian’s) economic experience over the last few years including the promising data showing the positive performance in Scotland’s employment figures and his belief that this will continue albeit “maybe not at the same pace”.
His forecast for 2012? “Growth, but subdued”.
Riddell Graham, Director of Partnerships from VisitScotland talked to us about the important role tourism has in boosting the local and national economy reminding us that 13% of total employment in Scotland is within the this sector.
Riddell had positive predictions in the form of “Scotland’s Winning Years”. A term coined by VisitScotland’s Chairman Mike Cantlay to describe 2012-2014 where opportunities for business will come from a number of big events in Scotland including:
- Pixar’s “Brave” film 2012
- London Olympics 2012 (anticipated increase in visitors from Londoners looking for a quiet getaway!)
- Glasgow 2012
- Homecoming 2014
- Ryder Cup 2014
- Year of Natural Scotland 2013
Our final speaker, Douglas Fergie, gave us a personal, honest and humorous insight into his company, Castle Masonry Product’s experience during the recession. A story shared by many small businesses across Scotland, Douglas talked through the impact of economic change, the challenges he faced, the changes he had to implement and the essential support from organisations such as East of Scotland’s Investment Fund and the West Lothian Business Gateway gave to help him secure, protect and now grow his organisation. Great to hear from a successful local business owner who remains optimistic for the future…even if he describes it as “cautious optimism”!
An enjoyable and informative evening was summed up by Dave McDougall who reminded us all that “we are going in the right direction” and that our speakers have shown that whilst business have tough times and obstacles ahead…
“…with support and determination it is possible to have the vision to expand”.