Page last updated at 23:10 GMT, Tuesday, 14 October 2008 00:10 UK

Can Scotland weather the storm?

Douglas Fraser
By Douglas Fraser
Business and Economy Editor, BBC Scotland

Humiliation: the verdict passed on the two financial flagships of the Scottish economy as they turned to the UK Government for a massive bail-out this week.

Monday's 37bn capital injection should have reassured customers that their savings were safe, reversing a slide towards the potential for catastrophic collapse of the banking system.

Promoters for the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) stand outside a train station to hand out phamplets for its promotion on Time Deposit interest rates in Singapore
Will Scotland be able to weather the financial storms?
But it has added to the concerns of 34,000 Scottish-based staff at the Royal Bank of Scotland and Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS).

And the financial crisis has boosted the chance of recession. The question now is how severe it will be, and how best to handle it?

Business confidence levels have rarely been worse.

Jobs are being shed at the fastest rate for nearly a decade, according to a survey of purchasing managers published this week.

The latest unemployment figures, published later, are expected to rise.

But not all is gloom and doom.

BBC Scotland has been taking the temperature of the nation's economy at this crucial moment in its economic fortunes.

We found different stresses and strains, with some nervously hoping they can weather the storm.

CASH FLOW

Businesses' basic concerns are three-fold.

One is that their costs have been rising, notably fuel.

The current crisis threatens their cash flow - if banks are making it harder to get overdrafts and other businesses delay payments, the risk is insolvency.

They also fear a collapse of customer demand as recession bites, both at home and in export markets.

HOUSEHOLDS

Demand is subdued as people realise the scale of personal debt.

Britain owes more than 1.4 trillion in personal borrowing, up 7% in the year to June.

There is evidence people are getting worse at keeping up payments, and more people are looking for advice on debt worries.

In Scotland, apart from mortgages, the average household owes almost 10,000.

Research published by Lloyds TSB this week suggests Scots are trying to pay off some of this, but saving less.

For those in difficulty, advice from money advisers is to seek help early, look for help from unclaimed tax credits, then prioritise mortgages and utility bills to avoid eviction or being cut off.

CONSTRUCTION AND HOUSING

Among the economy's sectors, construction is feeling most pain.

It is reckoned 26,000 jobs have gone already this year, with at least as many others vulnerable through supply businesses.

Estate agents and solicitors face a sharp drop in sales, down by 60% in Edinburgh.

FINANCE

Not as hard hit as construction, but with lots to worry workers.

Lloyds TSB is looking for big savings from its proposed merger with HBOS.

Industry representatives stress that with about 100,000 workers, most are in other, secure businesses handling life assurance, pensions and asset management.

RETAIL

Food price inflation has helped cash takings, but otherwise, it is very tough going on the high street.

Clothing is holding steady mainly because of discount prices.

Small businesses are worried about the vital Christmas market, which will be the test of whether customers can spend their way out of recession.

MANUFACTURING

Order books are looking reasonably strong in a sector that responds more slowly to downturn.

The sector is confident it is competitively placed to face tough times.

The electronics sector, which took a battering in recent years, now has a new niche and exports are strong.

The weakening pound makes it easier to export, but the main threat is a downturn in euro-zone orders.

TOURISM

The big Scottish employer has had its growth trends knocked back.

Anecdotal evidence is of hotels suffering more, while self-catering and caravanning is doing better as vacationers go for cheap options.

The strong euro should help British custom stay at home while continentals spend sterling on holiday, but there is little sign of that, and the weak dollar has hurt the American market.

OIL AND GAS

A different business cycle and higher oil prices mean employment is at a 10-year high.

It is too early to say if the credit squeeze has hurt oil businesses.

FOOD AND DRINK

The most recent whisky export figures are buoyant, but the crucial festive market is being closely watched.

Farmers complain of difficult harvests and higher costs, with processors also facing downward pressure on prices as customers turn to discount supermarkets.

BBC Scotland News has a series of special reports throughout the day on radio, television and online, culminating in a specially-extended Newsnight Scotland on BBC Two Scotland at 2230 BST.





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