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DAVID RICHARDSON: New council needs to learn businesses' needs

By David Richardson

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Business Comment by David Richardson, Highlands and Islands development manager, Federation of Small Businesses

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

May 5 has come and gone, the people have spoken, the parties/groups have met, and the new administration will be run by an SNP-Independent coalition.

Fine, but once the dust has settled, how can Highland Council best support this region’s communities and their all-important local economies?

In the run-up to the election I highlighted six low-cost, high-impact measures that FSB Scotland would like Highland Council to adopt to boost local recovery. However, since writing the manifesto, the economic outlook has grown progressively worse, globally, nationally and locally, and rising inflation and reduced consumer spending power are affecting us all.

Things remain very delicately poised for many businesses, for whom the longed-for post-pandemic recovery is still some way off. However, small businesses in Caithness and Sutherland are a resilient lot, and they are used to adapting to survive. They shouldn’t be written off just yet, especially if they have an understanding, helpful, and supportive council behind them.

We want to see the council buy even more goods and services locally; protect our high streets from damaging out-of-town developments; get its staff back into offices urgently so that their personal spending power once more boosts our high streets; invest even more in business start-ups through Business Gateway; and ensure that all of its systems and processes for things like planning and licensing applications are fit for purpose, quick, efficient and inexpensive.

Every day that a planning application is delayed sees construction costs increase and developments become less viable.

But there’s more, for we’d like councillors to visit as many businesses in their wards as possible to better understand the world in which they operate, and also to get an appreciation for how businesses’ prospects, positive or negative, can be affected by the council’s actions.

For example, in devising its version of the new Short-term Lets Licensing Scheme, it is vital that Highland Council inflicts no economic harm on communities inadvertently because it failed to understand and anticipate the consequences of its actions.

Light-touch implementation of new rules and regulations is what is needed at this most difficult time.

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