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DAVID RICHARDSON: After three years of struggle for businesses, it's time to make things easier

By David Richardson

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Business Comment by David Richardson, regional development manager at the Federation of Small Businesses

David Richardson, regional development manager at FSB.
David Richardson, regional development manager at FSB.

Well, that was the year that was. Hopes of a quick recovery from the pandemic at the start of the year were dashed by Putin’s Ukrainian adventure, and here we all are at the end of it, in a worse position than ever.

Countless smaller businesses really are struggling under the burden of sky-high costs and narrow margins, shaky consumer demand and significant shortages of staff, but that certainly doesn’t mean that all is lost – far from it.

Highland businesses are extremely dedicated, adaptable and optimistic, and they and their hundreds of thousands of counterparts across the country really can take us out of recession by trading, adapting, employing and serving their communities, just as they did after the financial crisis of 2007/8.

However, to do so they need support, every sphere and level of government making it as easy and affordable as possible for them to operate to their full potential.

First, the FSB wants governments to make smaller businesses’ overheads more manageable. No-one could have foreseen how costs would increase and margins be squeezed, and businesses in the most vulnerable sectors need targeted support to keep them alive today so that they can thrive and fully contribute tomorrow.

Making it easier for businesses to invest is also essential, for there’s a lot of catching up to do after three years of struggle. Accessing to the right finance cost-effectively is a big issue.

And the FSB wants smaller businesses to be freed from unnecessary or poorly designed regulation. Any such should only be introduced once they have been road-tested and their likely impact fully assessed, and even then, only when the time is right. It’s not right now. The flawed short-term lets licensing scheme, deposit and return scheme and local visitor levy tax on visitors are three obvious examples.

Finally, a plea. Tourism is the Highlands’ most important industry, keeping numerous rural communities viable. It’s not a cash-cow to be milked or a cost to be born grudgingly, so let’s reflect this in our actions, investing more in essential infrastructure and working together to make it work for all.

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