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DAVID RICHARDSON: Highland businesses need support to grow our local economies

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.

If the Scottish Government, Highland Council and public agencies want to reverse the demographic decline that blights so many of the Highlands’ more rural areas, creating the strong, vibrant, well-balanced and sustainable communities that we need, they must first create strong and vibrant local economies, and that means actively supporting the growth of smaller business. Why? Because our smaller businesses really are the beating hearts of their communities and the glue that holds them together.

Whatever the recent past, the future must not be about business survival – it must be about growth. And this means ensuring that businesses are motivated, helped with supportive infrastructure and favourable rules and regulations, assisted with accessible finance, and more.

However, while our recent FSB Scotland Big Small Business Winter Survey found that a half of Highlands and Islands businesses feel that Scotland is an attractive place to start a business and half planned to grow their businesses over the next two years, what of the half that didn’t?

Sadly, while most of these wanted to mark time, sizeable numbers planned to sell, shrink or close. Unsurprisingly, obstacles to growth centred primarily on costs, increasing government regulation and staff shortages, while a lack of finance was seen as a barrier to starting up by almost a half, and as an obstacle to growth by a quarter of existing businesses.

Details of Scotland's current public sector business support (grants, funding etc) can be found by searching for ‘Find Business Support in Scotland’, while the British Business Bank, the UK government’s economic development bank, also has a very useful online Finance Hub.

But there’s more. At a time when the debt market is transforming, the British Business Bank is partnering with FSB Scotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Highland Council in bringing its debt finance roadshow to the Highlands and Moray.

This hands-on event (Inverness, Wednesday, October 25) is targeted at SMEs seeking injections of working or growth capital, and it will provide a rare opportunity to better understand funding options and to connect directly with lenders from the south. Interested? Email me at david.richardson@fsb.org.uk or register on Eventbrite.

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