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DAVID RICHARDSON: Business ambition will follow investment in Highland roads, rail and ferries

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.

It takes a certain sort of person to set up and run a business in the Highlands, for it’s far from easy. What with sparce local populations, remoteness from major population centres and key markets, slow and unreliable transport infrastructure and the need to import most goods, costs are generally higher and staff in shorter supply than elsewhere in the UK, and many have to contend with seasonality to boot.

And yet despite this, Highland business owners are very passionate, ambitious and resilient; able to think outside the box and willing to take risks to make their dreams come true.

They are here because they really want to be here, and they want to do the best they can for themselves, their staff, their customers and their communities. Many win awards as a result. However, they need help.

They need help from us all as consumers – the more we spend with local, independent businesses the stronger our local economies and communities will be. And they need understanding and support from governments at all levels.

Right now, the First Minister’s ‘New Deal for Businesses Group’ notwithstanding, many business owners feel undervalued and misunderstood, and as a result, when asked in our winter survey why they did not plan to grow in 2023/24, the second most important reason after cost-of-living crisis was increasing government regulation. It’s stifled ambition.

We also need more affordable accommodation for workers and their families. Governments haven’t built anything like enough for years and construction programmes must be accelerated. And what of the failing transport infrastructure that is effectively making communities already remote from the cities and markets of the south even remoter?

Repair roads, complete the A9 and A96 dualling, improve and the Perth to Inverness railway line, and sort the west coast ferries!

Strong, confident businesses grow, creating more jobs and investing more locally, and the more this happens the stronger local economies and communities become. But right now, far too many businesses believe that governments – both national and local – aren't as supportive as they could or should be, and this must change.

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