SCOTTISH small businesses’ confidence plummeted at the end of last year amid tighter coronavirus-related restrictions, a key survey has revealed, with 21.5 per cent fearing they may have to cut staffing in the next three months.

The survey, published yesterday by the Federation of Small Businesses, shows confidence among member firms is even weaker north of the Border than in the UK as a whole.

FSB Scotland policy chair Andrew McRae flagged his belief that this was likely because of the “proportionally larger” tourism and hospitality sector north of the Border “as well as the restrictions Scottish firms faced when this survey was conducted” between December 14 and 21.

He warned: “The average Scottish business owner has grave fears about the future. These worries are founded upon firms facing weeks or months of restrictions after likely draining their cash reserves and taking on significant debt.”

The FSB’s Scottish small business confidence index plunged to -69 points in December from -26.3 points in the autumn. This measures whether businesses believe trading conditions are going to improve or deteriorate. The FSB’s UK small business confidence index fell to -49.3 points, the second-lowest ever. Each index was only lower in the first quarter of 2020, when the respective UK and Scottish readings were -143.4 points and -154.8 points.

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Mr McRae called for greater help for small businesses from the UK and Scottish governments.

He said: “We need to see the Chancellor expand help to company directors and boost the overall package of support to UK small businesses. This move must take place before the March budget.

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Mr McRae added: “The Scottish Government too must turn warm words into hard cash for smaller firms. That means quickly providing easy-to-access cash grants for all Scottish smaller businesses hit by this crisis, no matter their sector or status.”