AT a time of such profound economic concern, stories of companies going the extra mile to offer a little more for their staff and their customers are gratifying to hear.

That was certainly the case this week when Manorview, one of Scotland’s biggest independent hospitality companies, declared it was freezing the price of food and drink in its venues as the festive season approaches, while simultaneously pledging to increase the pay of its employees and promising them a share of its profits.

A cynic may argue that Manorview would have been more than aware that it could generate positive publicity – never a bad thing for a consumer-facing business – from announcing such moves. But that does not detract from the benefit that a pay rise will bring Manorview’s 560 employees when living standards are being squeezed to an extent not seen for several decades.

Nor will it in any way diminish the fact that Manorview, which is a Living Wage employer, will be freezing the price of food and drink at the nine bars and restaurants it operates throughout central Scotland, as people mull whether they can afford to enjoy a meal out with family and friends to celebrate Christmas.

Acknowledging the challenging circumstances that the company, and countless others, finds itself in, managing director David Tracey said: “In these situations, it can be challenging to identify the ways that you can make a difference. The reality is we can’t influence rising energy costs, and we can’t lower fuel costs, but what we can do is look after our team and ensure our customers can continue to enjoy our venues without costs rising there too.”

Manorview has built a reputation for doing the right thing by its people. Within weeks of the pandemic breaking out in March 2020, it declared that there would be no redundancies at the company as it decided to suspend trading prior to the country moving into lockdown – and before the then Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced the furlough scheme.

But it is not the only businesses which is attempting to mitigate the impact of the ongoing cost-of-living crisis on consumers.

Yesterday, the Kingsbarns Distillery in Fife announced a “pay what you like” offer for tours at the five-star visitor attraction. From now until the end of March, visitors can pay a price they are comfortable with for the one-hour tour slot that begins at 10.30am on Sundays; tickets for the tour, which gives visitors an insight into the history and heritage of the Kingsbarns brand, are usually priced £12.

“There’s no denying that this has been a tough year financially for so many people and things are expected to get worse as we approach Christmas,” said Peter Holroyd, Kingsbarns’ distillery manager. “Therefore, we wanted to ensure our award-winning distillery was accessible to everyone and provide a fun day out for locals and tourists alike.”

It is naturally heartening to see company owners take cognisance of the difficult financial circumstances so many people are currently facing. And all the more so in light of an Autumn Statement, delivered by Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt last Thursday, which has essentially paved the way for a further round of austerity and a fall in living standards the scale of which the UK has not seen for decades.

There certainly did not appear to be anything in the statement to give succour to the business community as it navigates these turbulent times. In fact, it arguably did the opposite, with the decision to freeze the thresholds for employers’ national insurance contributions and value-added tax expected to bring in an additional £26 billion to the Treasury between now and April 2028.

Tracy Black, director of the Confederation of British Industry in Scotland, said the Chancellor “deserved credit” for “protecting the most vulnerable”, following a commitment to increase benefits and the state pension in line with inflation. But she noted businesses would regard the freeze in NI thresholds, as well as the extended windfall tax on energy company profits, as “the sharpest stings in the tail”.

Interestingly, a call from CBI Scotland to emulate the freeze on business rates for “thousands of pubs, restaurants and small high street shops” announced for England last week by Mr Hunt alongside a new transitional relief scheme, has led to pressure for similar action north of the Border. Yesterday, 19 business and industry bodies wrote to John Swinney, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister and Interim Finance Secretary, asking him to freeze the business rate in the coming financial year. It came ahead of the announcement of the next Scottish Budget on December 15, which is expected to set the business rate and associated reliefs and thresholds for the 2023-24 financial year.

“This is an unequivocal statement from a formidable cross-section of representatives of Scottish industry and commerce, calling on Ministers to at least freeze the business rate in the coming financial year,” said David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium. “Hopefully, the Interim Finance Secretary will take heed and act in his Budget next month given the clear support from across the business community.”

At a time when businesses are under such severe pressure, one would imagine that any support to reduce the burden of business rates would be welcomed by firms in Scotland. But for many business owners, including those in the hard-pressed hospitality and retail sectors, time is not on their side.

The festive season, traditionally a vital time for shops, bars, restaurants and hotels, is approaching fast. But, as consumers worry about soaring inflation, rising mortgage rates and even higher energy bills from April, there is every indication that it is going to be a Christmas to forget.

Such a prospect is bitterly ironic for businesses which will be able to trade freely at Christmas for the first time in three years but are unlikely to attract the footfall they need. In such circumstances, the moves announced by Manorview and Kingsbarns are especially nice to hear. We just can’t expect every business to be able to afford to follow suit.