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DAVID RICHARDSON: Spending pennies on the rest of the Highlands is vital for communities

By David Richardson

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

David Richardson on Golspie toilets.
David Richardson on Golspie toilets.

A sweeping statement, but Inverness has fared differently to much of rural Highland in recent years, the former growing as both an economic powerhouse and population centre, and much of the latter both struggling demographically and failing to fulfil its full economic potential.

Inverness’s population growth comes from the strength of its economy, while rural Highland’s economic weakness is partly the result of working-age population decline – the inability to meet many employers’ desperate need for staff.

The First Minister recently named "equality, opportunity and community" as his "Missions for 2026", and staff in our public agencies continually strive to improve the lot of rural Highland, locally and regionally.

However, when doing so there is a noticeable tendency for "community" and "businesses" to be placed in separate silos, almost as though they are mutually exclusive. Why? If strong and sustainable communities are rooted in strong, sustainable economies, why suggest that small communities and small businesses are somehow separate?

Many of the Highlands’ most successful communities are driven by groups containing a heavy component of businesspeople (active and retired), and they also work closely with local businesses. Sharing visions and working together to make things happen is what it’s all about.

However, this only works up to a point – the public sector must be added to the mix for best results, and Highland Council has a vital role to play as an enabler. By investing comparatively small sums, it can enable businesses and their communities to make the most of any opportunities that come their way.

Take two examples. When the public toilets in Golspie remain locked because a vandalised £2000 door hasn’t been replaced, what impact does it have on visitors’ desires to stay and spend money?

Or what about helping people to get into work and public and private sector employers to operate effectively? Why would Highland Council risk making parents give up work by forcing Dornoch Primary’s after-school childcare charity to close? (Reduced core funding and rent increased from zero to £17,000 in two years.) An outcry might have resolved matters temporarily, but responsible, joined-up thinking it ain’t!

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