We are in the sort of fragile business and economic environment, and have been for years now, where it seems that bad news is never that far away.

Last Monday saw the collapse into administration of a very well-known and long-established name on the Scottish business scene, housebuilder Stewart Milne Group.

READ MORE: Founder 'devastated' as housebuilder collapses, 217 jobs lost

The insolvency came as a surprise and sadly it was accompanied by the news that 217 of the Aberdeen-based company’s workforce of more than 300 had been made redundant swiftly after the administrators’ appointment.

The collapse came after lender Lloyds Banking Group declined to accept either of two bids for the business, the founder of the housebuilder declared.

READ MORE: Ian McConnell: Yousaf maybe Panglossian but offers more substance than Tories

Former Aberdeen Football Club chairman Stewart Milne, who founded the housebuilder in 1975, said: “I am devastated by this totally unexpected outcome of the sale process and struggling to accept it, given the profound impact it will have on employees, subcontractors, suppliers and customers.

READ MORE: Ian McConnell: A peculiar feature of the Stewart Milne collapse

“Stewart Milne Group was up for sale and, following significant interest, two bids were submitted. The bank has not accepted either bid and withdrawn its funding, which left the directors with no option but to appoint administrators… I believe one of the bids could have delivered a comparable financial return to administration and, crucially, allowed the business to continue to operate, safeguarding hundreds of jobs and protecting livelihoods.”

Lloyds Banking Group said: “When a company experiences financial difficulties, we will always try to find a solution that places the business onto a sounder financial footing without the need for any insolvency process. Unfortunately, despite several years of support and forbearance, including multiple maturity extensions to the borrowing, this has not been possible in this instance.”

Whatever the details of how the collapse came about, and Mr Milne and the bank clearly have different views on whether administration was necessary, the job losses are lamentable.

As well as the posts already made redundant, the remaining jobs are clearly under threat as the administrators at Teneo Financial Advisory pursue an “orderly wind down” of the housebuilding business.

And Mr Milne rightly characterises the impact on subcontractors, suppliers and customers as “profound”.

The administrators flagged various pressures on Stewart Milne Group, including the surge in interest rates.

The Bank of England has hiked UK base rates from a record low of 0.1% in December 2021 to 5.25%.

The administrators said: “Like many in the housebuilding sector, Stewart Milne has faced significant challenges over the last few years, with economic uncertainty due to rising interest rates, increasing cost pressure and an associated reduction in consumer confidence.”

Housebuilder Persimmon last week described market conditions as “challenging”.

However, Persimmon chief executive Dean Finch said the housebuilder had “performed well” in the challenging conditions.

Persimmon said that its completion of the sale of 9,922 houses last year was “ahead of previous guidance”.

And, looking ahead, it added: “Mortgage rates are beginning to ease, and the response to our recent Boxing Day campaign has been positive, generating a substantial number of leads for our sales teams. Encouragingly, build costs continue to moderate, which will benefit completions in 2024.”

However, Persimmon declared: “We anticipate market conditions will remain highly uncertain during 2024, particularly for first-time buyers and with an election likely this year.”

Households and businesses alike have had to endure far too much uncertainty for many years now. However, there is precious little sign that uncertainties on so many fronts are going to ease any time soon.

Ayrshire-based housebuilder McTaggart Construction had some good news on the employment front last week.

The company said it is recruiting up to 70 staff to “meet growing demand” in 2024.

McTaggart Construction, which was founded in 1946, said it is seeking to fill up to 40 white-collar roles and recruit as many as 30 tradespeople and labourers.

Last week also saw First Minister Humza Yousaf deliver a major speech on the Scottish economy.

As noted in my column in The Herald on Friday, this speech at the University of Glasgow, while perhaps at times veering into the Panglossian, was thought-provoking.

While it was delivered in the context of what Scotland could be as an independent country, and people’s opinions on the speech are therefore likely to divide in large part down constitutional lines, there was much substance to form the basis for reasoned debate.

Leaving the constitutional question to one side, Mr Yousaf was right to highlight the importance of large-scale capital investment to drive key industries of the future and help deliver economic prosperity.

The UK Government’s real-terms cut in capital investment is lamentable.

Mr Yousaf’s emphasis on reducing inequality is also on the money from an economic perspective.

The Resolution Foundation think-tank has highlighted the massive economic cost of inequality in the UK as a whole.

The ruling Conservatives appear happy to foster inequality.

While there might be no silver bullets to make things enormously better in the very short term, tackling inequality urgently is absolutely crucial, obviously for society but also for economic prosperity.

And the Tories have surely shown that major policy mistakes are very bad indeed for the economy and living standards.