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winners and losers part 2

In a year which has seen unprecedented tumult, from the war in Ukraine, three UK prime ministers and a cost-of-living crisis, businesses across the north and north-east of Scotland have rolled with the highs and lows.

Some however have enjoyed positives despite the pain.

Oil and gas operators

There were very few sectors able to boast continued success during 2022.

But the oil and gas industry raked in huge profits, thanks to higher commodity prices.

The North Sea Shearwater platform. Image: Shell

BP, Shell and other key players in the UK North Sea all made big gains.

Oil and gas prices were driven higher by growing global demand as much of the world got back to normality after the worst of Covid, while war in Ukraine squeezed supplies.

UK oil and gas producers and their main industry body, Offshore Energies UK, spent much of the year bleating about the perils of a windfall tax on the sector.

It now seems their warnings were well-founded – many operators are reviewing their spending plans for 2023 following the latest increase in their taxes, announced in the chancellor’s mini Budget.

But they can hardly complain about the industry’s financial performance during 2023.

Not all of the supply chain was happy however, with several strike actions taking place across the North Sea as workers rejected pay offers that were lower than the rate of inflation.

Next year will likely see oil and gas firms come under further pressure to invest more in the energy transition.

A good year for business men named James:

Sir Jim Milne and Sir Jim Walker

In June two of the north-east’s best known business men were awarded a knighthood in Elizabeth II’s final honours.

More than 40 years after founding a business named in honour of the former Queen’s favourite castle, the chairman of Aberdeen’s Balmoral Group was awarded the Knight Bachelor for services to business and charity.

He is now officially known as Sir James S Milne CBE, DL, DHC, Hon DBA, Hon FRIAS and came 28 years after he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1994.

 Sir Jim Milne picks him his knighthood from Charles III at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Image: Balmoral Group

Balmoral Group operates from a 45 acre site in Aberdeen and has engineering and manufacturing facilities in Newcastle, South Yorkshire and South Wales.

Speaking at the time Sir James, joint founder and chairman of Friends of ANCHOR, a charity established in 1997 that supports Aberdeen’s cancer and haematology care unit, as well as financing many ground-breaking research programmes, said: “For as long as I can remember I have strived to be the best I can be and, I think, have encouraged others to do and think the same way.

“I am very fortunate in that I have been surrounded by a loving family all my life and they have given me the strength and freedom to pursue my commercial, charitable and personal dreams.”

Sir Jim Walker receives his knighthood awarded by Elizabeth II from Charles III. Image: Walkers Shortbread.

Meanwhile, Jim Walker, director of the famous family-owned shortbread maker, was officially invested as a Knight Bachelor in recognition of exceptional services to the food industry by His Majesty King Charles III, at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh in October.

In a statement the company said: “Jim has dedicated over 50 years of service to his family business.

“Together with his brother Joe and sister Marjorie, Jim’s generation grew the businesses from a tiny village bakery into a significant global brand.

“Walker’s Shortbread would not be what it is today without the third generation’s hard work and entrepreneurial vision.”

…and Jimmy Buchan

Jimmy Buchan of Peterhead’s Amity Fish Company netted the top prize at a national competition for small businesses.

The Trawlermen TV series star and chief executive of the Scottish Seafood Association beat more than 3,000 other entrants and dozens of regional and national winners to clinch the the overall prize at the Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) Celebrating Small Business Awards in May.

Amity also won the award for digital/ecommerce business of the year.

Jimmy Buchan celebrating his award win
Jimmy Buchan, managing director of Amity Fish Co wins top award at the UK-wide FSB Celebrating Small Business awards 2022 . Image: Erikka Askeland/DC Thomson

On collecting the prize Mr Buchan, who has worked in the fishing industry for more than 40 years, joked: “It’s not often I’m speechless.”

The FSB said the company’s ingenuity and resilience had impressed the judges as it made the switch from exclusively supplying restaurants and the hospitality trade to delivering seafood products directly to people in their homes during the pandemic.

P&J Live

Aberdeen venue P&J Live beat off competition from international rivals to win the large venue of the year title at a prestigious awards ceremony in London.

It was declared the cream of the crop in a category for venues of more than 20,000 square metres (about 215,300sq ft) in the AEO Excellence Awards.

P&J Live, which opened in August 2019, had already won a raft of property awards.

P&J Live at the city's new exhibition centre, Teca. Picture by Darrell Benns/DCT Media.
P&J Live. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson

The AEO (Association of Event Organisers) Awards represent the best the events industry has to offer and showcase some of its finest achievements, recognising and celebrating high standards of excellence from venues and service quality by suppliers and contractors.

P&J Live won against some impressive competition, fending off the likes of Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Centre, ExCeL London, RAI Amsterdam, Birmingham’s NEC, and the O2 in London, not to mention a rival closer to home in the SEC (Scottish Event Campus) in Glasgow.

‘A lot of serendipity’: Whisky-maker Billy Walker toasts 50 years in industry

Renowned Scotch whisky-maker Billy Walker is celebrating a remarkable 50 years in the industry in 2022 and we caught up with him back in October to discuss his extraordinary career.

Now owner and master distiller at The GlenAllachie Distillers Company, Mr Walker achieved the fiercely-contested title of world’s best single malt at the World Whiskies Awards 2021.

His landmark year sees the release of a trilogy of Speyside single malts, The GlenAllachie Past, Present and Future Series.

Billy Walker with a glass of whisky
Billy Walker celebrates 50 years in the industry. Image: The GlenAllachie.

A qualified chemist, Mr Walker has been at the helm of The GlenAllachie for almost five years, but despite modestly insisting: “There is only one person who can win the Nobel Prize for chemistry,” he conceded his scientific background had “unquestionably been very helpful” for whisky-making.

Mr Walker’s experience spans iconic names including Ballantine’s, Deanston, Tobermory, BenRiach, GlenDronach, Glenglassaugh and The GlenAllachie.

“The industry has never been in a stronger place,” he said, adding: “The big players are in really safe hands and demand has never been higher.

“You can see all these new starts, relatively young, small companies coming through and that will create excitement. I look around my own team – there is a lot of energy, exciting ideas.”

‘Tartan rebel’ in the Highlands

Prickly Thistle Highland weaving mill founder Clare Campbell said she was waging a “fast-fashion war” back in April shortly after the Black Isle company announced it had become the first textiles producer in Scotland to achieve celebrated “B Corp” status recognising its ethical standards.

“We are the only B Corp-certified mill in the whole of Scotland,” said Ms Campbell, adding: “In America, a B Corp certification is something they are very, very aware of. It was born in America.”

Ms Campbell insists “only 1% of clothing is recycled” currently, incurring massive waste and that consumers should act as they used to by buying less and paying more.

Clare Campbell and her tartan collection.
Clare Campbell and her tartan collection. Image: Prickly Thistle.

Prickly Thistle’s mill was set up in Evanton in Easter Ross in an empty building in 2018. Prior to that, the last working mill in the region was Hunters of Brora, which closed its doors some years ago.

The company relocated four looms and other equipment to the Highlands, where it started with three staff, expanded to 15 and is now looking to recruit more if demand increases.

The Black Isle business has operated on a break-even basis since 2018, with any “small surplus” reinvested in people and equipment.

The mill is is keen for new investment, but stresses its new ethical B Corp certification means its articles of association declare “people and planet before profit”.

Ms Campbell added: “We realise we are fighting a fast-fashion war. How do we make [clothing] from natural fibres, how do we make in a way that is not all automated so we can create as many jobs as we can?

“We want to sell less to more people.”

Ava Innes taps into winter need

Elgin-based Ava Innes scooped £20,000 in December’s Scottish Edge awards using its UK-made, sustainable insulating fabric in clothing and bedding to help customers keep warm this winter.

Ava Innes founder Joan Johnston told the Press and Journal: “This time I went in under our secondary product which is effectively a coat which people can wear using our fibre that keeps them warm at home.”

Basic fabric at development stage which will be in different colours. Image: Ava Innes.
Basic fabric at development stage which will be in different colours. Image: Ava Innes.

Ms Johnston said the £20,000 would be used to market and launch the coat in February adding: “We designed around the idea of staying warm at home and fine-tuned it for the energy crisis because everyone is struggling with heating bills.

“The Scottish Edge timing is perfect – we have been in focus groups and have had feedback from the product – people already want to order.”

Royal Crown Chinese Takeaway

It was looking to be a very bad year indeed for Martin Tang, owner of the Royal Crown Chinese Takeway in Aberdeen’s Torry district.

The 62-year-old was gobsmacked when his gas bills rose from £1,000 to more than £10,000 per quarter in a matter of months.

Martin Tang in front of the Royal Crown Chinese takeaway
The Royal Crown Chinese takeaway. Image: Cameron Roy/ DC Thomson

His quarterly electricity bill also rose threefold from £1,300 to more than £4,000.

His power supplier SSE agreed to slash the amount he had to pay but he was still left with nearly £5,000 coming out of his pocket for energy every three months.

In August, he was forced to take the “heartbreaking” decision to close the takeaway, which had been a favourite of the local community for nearly 50 years

However, Mr Chang proved a compelling spokesman for many small businesses who found themselves facing similar issues due to spiralling energy costs. He took his plight public and customers and the community rallied around accordingly.

As a result the restaurant was able to reopen in September to great fanfare following a few modifications to costs and prices.

According to his spokeswoman, Mr Tang said thanks to his customers and supporters and looks forward to welcoming them in 2023.


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[winners and losers part 2]


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