By Kristy Dorsey

With circumstances still changing at dizzying pace in what is normally a fairly predictable spell in the business calendar, this festive season is proving an anxious close to what was already a remarkably arduous year.

Many who would normally be going at full tilt – retailers, restaurants and pubs – are again shuttered and dark in their most important trading period of the year. Others have been able to remain open, but if any part of their business entails dealings with Europe, last-minute scrambling over Brexit has provided little warning of what January 1 will bring. The bombshell announcements just six days before Christmas on tighter restrictions to control a pernicious new mutation of the coronavirus has heaped further uncertainty upon what already appeared a hopelessly ambiguous landscape.

Businesses local to where people live – or those which can take their goods and services to customers’ homes – tended to fare better in 2020, but there were some exceptions to that rule. It’s doubtless no pub or restaurant in Scotland hasn’t suffered, regardless of location; on the other hand, certain large projects involving eco-friendly technologies gained increasing favour throughout the course of the pandemic.

Regarding the latter, hydrogen projects prevailed in Scotland ahead of next year’s COP26 convention in Glasgow. In October, Northern Ireland’s Wrightbus provided Aberdeen City Council with what is thought to be the world’s first fleet of hydrogen-powered double deckers. That announcement came just weeks after ScottishPower revealed plans to team up with BOC and ITM Power to build a hydrogen plant near Glasgow capable of fuelling more than 51,000 buses per year.

READ MORE: Hydrogen fuel for Glasgow ‘in time for COP26’

Edinburgh’s Logan Energy, headed by chief executive Bill Ireland, secured a string of projects throughout the year and has set its sights on global expansion after securing a deal to supply hydrogen refuelling stations to China. Meanwhile, Scotland’s Hy2Go is expected to start construction early next year on a production hub in Lanarkshire after Ryse Hydrogen, run by industrialist and JCB heir Jo Bamford, agreed to a “significant offtake” of fuel once production begins.

It was a decidedly dreadful year for high street retailers as the collapse of Philip Green’s Arcadia empire became one of the latest in an extensive string of closures that is estimated to have resulted in the loss of more than 140,000 UK jobs during the first nine months of the pandemic. With their tenants going bust, property owners felt the pain as well: major shopping mall owner Intu fell into administration in June, with its Braehead site on the outskirts of Glasgow now under the management of real estate investment specialist Global Mutual and estate agency Savills.

Supermarkets racked up a surge in sales as the widespread closure of restaurants and other leisure venues focused shoppers’ spending on food for the home, though not all of this fell directly to the bottom line. Profits at Morrisons, for example, were down by more than a quarter during the six months to August as an additional £155 million in costs linked to health safety measures outweighed increasing revenues.

Location was a key factor in Scotmid’s performance, with chief executive John Brodie explaining that while the pattern of people working from home boosted its community stores, those focused on food-to-go products in city centre locations have suffered from a lack of passing trade.

READ MORE: Dalry butcher shop R Stalker & Son hails most successful Christmas in 36-year history

Amid these shifts in consumption, some local independents successfully carved new niches of their own. Among them was Dalry family butcher R Stalker & Son, which recorded the most successful Christmas in its 36-year history after welcoming a host of new customers during lockdown.

In the technology space, providers of workplace solutions saw surging demand, with Zoom leading the way as businesses scrambled to organise staff in the rapid shift to home working. Similarly, streaming services such as Netflix that bring entertainment straight into the home filled the void left by the closure of theatres, cinemas, nightclubs and concert venues.

The rise of all things remote fuelled record revenues in Scotland for Check Point Software Technologies as Covid-related phishing and malware attacks brought cyber security to the fore. The Nasdaq-listed company’s Scottish client base includes customers in financial services, telecoms, utilities, government, healthcare and education.

The technology sector also yielded Scotland’s first quoted company in more than two years as Tommy Cook led Calnex Solutions to a successful listing on the Alternative Investment Market.

READ MORE: An ‘accidental entrepreneur’ taking Calnex up the ranks

Founded in 2006 by Mr Cook, the Linlithgow-based company develops telecoms testing equipment used by clients such as Cisco, BT, China Mobile, Microsoft and Facebook. Its extremely precise measuring technology has remained in demand throughout the pandemic amid the continuing migration to 5G mobile networks.

Start-ups with remote medical solutions proved attractive among investors, with Glasgow-based IbisVision completing a successful round of fundraising in the fourth quarter to take its technology into the US and beyond. Founded in 2014 by former eye surgeon Blair Donaldson, the IbisVision platform allows eye care professionals to assess, prescribe and diagnose conditions without any need for direct contact with the patient.

And it was, of course, an incredibly busy year for any company directly involved in the effort to combat Covid-19. From drug developers to manufacturers of sanitisers and PPE equipment, it seemed impossible to do enough, or do it fast enough.

Thus did Scottish testing specialist Omega Diagnostics  find itself in the limelight in 2020 for its part in developing kits to detect the virus. The company has more than doubled headcount at its headquarters in Alva as it prepares for demand that is expected to be driven by the need to monitor the effectiveness of coronavirus vaccinations in the new year.