The John Lewis retailer in Aberdeen had at occasions been one of many chain’s most profitable shops, at occasions even surpassing its Oxford Avenue flagship.
It opened in 1989 as North Sea Oil entered a brand new growth interval wherein the business supplied greater than 54,000 well-paid jobs within the North East.
Throughout three flooring of the brutalist Norco Home constructing, the town’s prosperous center class shopped for residence furnishings, electronics, costly clothes, and infrequently stopped for afternoon tea in one of many two eating halls.
Nonetheless, final 12 months the division retailer closed after “in depth analysis to establish and accommodate new purchasing habits by clients in numerous elements of the nation.”
It had been “financially challenged” earlier than the pandemic, the partnership mentioned, however buyers being compelled to remain at residence and the overall pattern in the direction of on-line purchasing made these challenges insurmountable.
First, the town tried to power the store managers to rethink and to save lots of the roles of the 265 staff.
Council members, MSPs and MPs shaped a job power. The Press and Journal newspaper ran a Save Our Retailer marketing campaign. Greater than 20,000 individuals have signed a petition.
It was an establishment and the individuals of Aberdon had been deeply saddened by its disappearance.
“Having been there when it opened looks like a part of my life has been thrown apart,” one native wrote in a letter to the newspaper.
The marketing campaign was about extra than simply fast haberdashery and luxurious cosmetics, it was about the way forward for the town. A metropolis that prospered and now faces an unsure future.
It was all ineffective. The choice was last. Aberdeen not has John Lewis, a sufferer of the autumn in onshore oil and fuel revenues and the injury brought on by the coronavirus.
The division retailer’s plight was raised by Professor Keith Bender when Holyrood requested him in regards to the prospects for Scotland’s economic system.
The SIRE Chair in Economics on the College of Aberdeen Enterprise Faculty is cautious about confidently predicting the longer term.
“If I actually knew that, I would not be a professor,” he says.
“I feel the 2 greatest unknowns, and these are notably related to the Scottish economic system, are the way forward for oil and fuel as a result of even should you do not issue within the worth of offshore exploration, there are clearly lots of people working within the sector.
“And by bringing in cash that can increase the economic system within the north east of Scotland specifically, however not simply within the north east of Scotland as a result of we all know individuals come from throughout Scotland to work. So clearly, that is a giant unknown. And we’re unsure how that can have an effect on the economic system.
“The opposite is about retail and whether or not this motion away from the excessive road will proceed.
“I imply, all of the indicators appear to be that Covid has accelerated this motion away from brick-and-mortar shops, as they name them, and in the direction of extra on-line retail.
“That centralizes the character of the financial affect as a result of it does not actually keep on the excessive road the place you might have each kinds of typical excessive road companies.
“I imply, much like how Aberdeen misplaced John Lewis earlier this 12 months and British House Shops and I imply Aberdeen actually solely has Marks and Spencer as the one main retailer right here.
“In fact that takes away jobs, that takes away funding within the native economic system. Amazon has distribution facilities they usually rent drivers and all that, however the problem with these kinds of jobs, as we see now, is that numerous them are fairly precarious jobs. And whereas which may match into the best way some individuals wish to work, most of us who’re mortgaged and have youngsters don’t love precariousness.”
In line with the professor, the Scottish economic system is “okay”. It might be higher and it might be worse.
After falling greater than 20 per cent early within the Covid lockdown, Scotland’s GDP – the determine used to measure financial output – has continued to return to pre-pandemic ranges. In October – the newest figures accessible at press time – it was solely 0.4 p.c under the February 2020 stage.
Round three quarters of Scotland’s economic system is within the companies sector, overlaying all the things from banking and monetary companies to authorities spending and lodging and meals companies.
Manufacturing there grew 0.3 p.c in October, with positive factors in eight of the 14 sub-sectors.
Within the different sectors, manufacturing (mining and quarrying, manufacturing, electrical energy and fuel provide, and water provide and waste), which accounts for round 16 p.c of the economic system, grew by one p.c.
Whereas development, which weighs 6 p.c, fell 3.4 p.c as provide chain points continued to harm.
In December, the Scottish Fiscal Fee (SFC), the impartial physique chargeable for producing impartial forecasts for Scotland, forecast that GDP would return to pre-pandemic ranges within the second quarter of 2022.
The financial restoration was “quicker and smoother than we had anticipated”.
And though the forecasts had been finalized earlier than the Omicron variant appeared, they had been comparatively assured that the affect would match their core assumptions
These assumptions embrace the unemployment fee peaking at 4.9 p.c, effectively under the January 2021 forecast, which peaked at 7.6 p.c.
Though the tempo of restoration has been much better than anticipated, the Scottish economic system remains to be lagging behind that of the UK.
In comparison with pre-pandemic ranges, GDP, employment and earnings have recovered extra slowly than the UK. Nonetheless, that is additionally being distorted by sturdy progress numbers in London’s monetary sector.
It additionally harks again to the destiny of John Lewis of Aberdeen and the affect of declining oil and fuel exercise within the North Sea and the transfer away from the primary street.
Professor Bender says there are causes for optimism, though the chances are “fragile”.
“I feel when it comes to oil and fuel, different types of inexperienced power era would exchange that.
“So we all know that there was enormous funding in wind power and wind farms, each onshore and offshore. I feel that is an essential factor. They should exchange energy era in some way.
“However as we have seen over the past three or 4 months, when the wind pace decreases, you do not produce as a lot electrical energy.
“I feel there is a chance for artistic fascinated by new inexperienced power era and it is one thing that must be accomplished. I do not know if it may be accomplished by the federal government or by business, however it must be accomplished.
“I feel the chance when it comes to retail, and also you see, that is just a bit bit, actions to buy native initiatives, possibly smaller entrepreneurs are coming which might be actually pushing that. That’s an possibility.
“However the issue is that it’s important to have numerous these small entrepreneurs to offset the departure of a giant retailer, so that you would possibly want 40 or 50 small employers to offset the identical stage.
“So sure, there’s numerous uncertainty. There are alternatives there, however they’re fairly fragile.”
The scientist says there are different areas the place there might be progress, notably in tourism and hospitality.
” I have been in and round Aberdeen for over 20 years now, though I am initially from the States and meals and stuff is far more recognised. Suppose again 30 years and typical British meals, at the very least because it was noticed, could be very completely different than it’s in the present day.
“And there is a give attention to native produce and we do a extremely good job at that type of factor. In fact, tourism will likely be badly affected by Covid. It may also be influenced by concepts that attempt to make the economic system greener. We all know that air journey shouldn’t be essentially the most ecological and environmentally pleasant option to journey and being on an island makes it fairly troublesome, not unimaginable however fairly troublesome, to get right here. So I feel there are challenges there too. However in fact it is one thing that Scotland specifically can actually, actually attempt to push ahead.”
Nonetheless, areas like manufacturing and monetary companies are “in all probability just about maxed out,” he says.
It’s unimaginable to speak in regards to the state of Scotland’s economic system with out speaking in regards to the Structure.
Nicola Sturgeon has mentioned she hopes to carry a second independence referendum earlier than the tip of 2023.
The economic system dominated the 2014 vote and has been a battleground within the proxy Indy Conflict waged within the years since.
This proxy warfare by no means will get hotter than with the annual launch of the Authorities Expenditure and Income Scotland (Gers) report, which particulars authorities spending and the sum of money raised.
The newest assertion revealed that Scotland spent £36.3 billion greater than it took in, equal to a notional deficit of twenty-two.4 per cent of GDP.
Clearly, a lot of this staggering distinction will be attributed to Covid spending, however within the earlier 12 months it nonetheless amounted to a whopping 8.6 per cent of GDP.
Relying on who you communicate to, this hole speaks for both independence or remaining within the UK.
Scotland’s Finance Minister Kate Forbes mentioned the GERS figures “reinforce our calls for added fiscal and financial powers to handle our funds sustainably, as every other superior economic system around the globe will.”
“We merely can not afford to not have the powers of a standard impartial nation,” she added.
Nonetheless, Scottish Tory secretary Alister Jack mentioned the figures present Scotland “advantages from being a part of a powerful UK”.
He mentioned: “The UK Authorities’s unprecedented assist has enabled us to deal with sufferers, vaccinate individuals, shield a 3rd of our workforce with furlough and supply very important loans to greater than 90,000 Scottish companies.
“We had been capable of climate the Covid storm as a part of the UK however now face the problem of rebuilding our economic system and supporting our heroic NHS and different public companies. Our focus stays on this job.”
One of many huge financial debates in a future referendum will likely be about commerce.
How will an impartial Scotland develop commerce hyperlinks with the remainder of the UK? Brexit and Northern Eire have given us a glimpse of simply how troublesome that’s.
After which what about Europe and rejoining the EU and what the complexity of that may imply for the economic system.
A latest report by commerce modelers on the London Faculty of Economics (LSE) instructed that the price of independence to the Scottish economic system could be “more likely to be two or thrice larger than the price of Brexit, and rejoining the EU after independence could be do little to mitigate these prices.”
It provides: “From a commerce perspective, independence would make Scotland considerably poorer than remaining within the UK.”
Robust questions lie forward, and in contrast to the 2014 and 2016 referendums, voters predict far more detailed solutions.