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DAVID RICHARDSON: High streets in Caithness and Sutherland are central to vibrant communities

By David Richardson

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

David Richardson Wick High Street
David Richardson Wick High Street

Caithness and Sutherland’s high streets are fundamental to the wellbeing of their communities, for they are about far more than the provision of goods and services alone, vitally important though these be.

They are also about providing important opportunities for social interaction, especially amongst the old and isolated; about events and cultural activities; and, very importantly, they are about community cohesion and pride.

And unsurprisingly, recent research into high streets conducted by FSB and Public First found that the public considers small businesses to be more important than large businesses when it comes to keeping traditional crafts and skills alive, pride in local communities, providing unique services and products, and growing local economies.

Sadly, demographic decline seems to be continuing in much of our region, populations both shrinking and ageing, and halting and reversing this trend is by no means easy – it certainly can’t be done by increasing local birth rates alone.

We really must retain and attract more young people and families. This means making all parts of the Highlands great places to live, work and play, and it means keeping our communities vibrant and welcoming. Central to this are our high streets.

High streets and their futures have been much discussed in recent years, but how are they doing now, post-pandemic? Have they recovered from the rush to shop online during lockdowns? Are people returning to cafés, bars, restaurants, arts and cultural centres? What issues are they facing? How is government policy affecting them?

FSB is now conducting a UK-wide Future Of The High Streets survey to establish just how healthy our high streets are and what can be done to make them even stronger, helping them to flourish long into the future. The findings will underpin our recommendations to national and local governments on many issues, including business rates, parking and transport, access to cash and street cleaning.

All smaller businesses are encouraged to take part, and there is a £250 cash prize draw as an incentive. The survey closes on 27 July.

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