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BUSINESS FOCUS: Working together is the key to ensuring a brighter economic future for all of us

By David Richardson

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David Richardson Wick High Street
David Richardson Wick High Street

This looks like being another tricky year for smaller businesses in Caithness and Sutherland, with the UK economy teetering on recession, businesses still facing frighteningly high costs and staff shortages, and uncertain consumer demand generally.

But while business owners don’t have to look far to find problems, all is not doom and gloom, for they are optimistic, independent-minded and entrepreneurial folk, highly adaptable and responsive to changes in consumer behaviour, technology and the economic landscape.

What businesses need to thrive is help and support, literal and moral, and the starting point for this has to be government, national and local. Investing in essential infrastructure, not least housing and transport, is key if we really do want to power up the economy and reverse population decline by making the Highlands an even more attractive place to live, work and play. Expensive? Yes – but essential.

And not everything need cost money. Employers could be helped by making Skilled Worker Visas cheaper, by extending the Youth Mobility Scheme to EU countries and the upper age limit to 35, by lifting the ban on asylum seekers’ rights to work, and by actively helping smaller employers navigate the immigration system.

Other government actions to help smaller businesses in 2024 should include the UK government raising the VAT threshold, which has been eroded by inflation and now acts as a disincentive, and curbing late payments. And the Scottish Government should extend the UK government’s rates relief for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses to Scotland, and ensure future business regulation takes full account of the likely economic consequences.

It’s also about attitude. The Scottish Government should put businesses and the economy front and centre of its thinking, for only with a strong economy can we effectively address the country’s health, social and other ills. We need it to really listen, and then, through its agencies, take direct positive action.

With more cooperation and collaboration between businesses and within communities, combined with active, focused support from government and public agencies, the future can indeed be bright.

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