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Intervention needed on a number of fronts if businesses are to survive to thrive once more

By David Richardson

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The tumultuous events of the past fortnight have gripped the country, the Elizabethan age drawing to a sudden close and dawning of the time of Charles III.

But, however sad, emotional, enthralling and thought-provoking it all is, the minds of many business owners in Caithness and Sutherland are preoccupied with events closer to home: their bottom lines. With skyrocketing energy and other costs, interest rates set to rise still higher, debts like bounce back loans to be repaid, serious shortages of key staff and some materials and, of course, increasingly shaky consumer demand, it’s no wonder that business confidence is plummeting.

As both FSB and media commentators continually point out, the UK as a whole is in a desperate situation and businesses need help. And, while the Prime Minister’s recent announcement of a price cap on energy for businesses as well as domestic users is extremely welcome, we need to know what it means in practice before we can properly evaluate it.

But whatever the case, help shouldn’t stop there. If businesses are to survive to thrive once more, government must intervene on a number of fronts, including ensuring that businesses are not left teetering on cliff edges once the six-month price cap expires, reversing the forthcoming hike in National Insurance contributions and reducing fuel duty and VAT, especially on non-domestic energy. We also expect Highland Council to use the almost £3 million Covid business support grant underspend currently sitting in its coffers to support small, local businesses through the winter.

Finally, in this time of danger for local businesses, economies and communities, nothing new should be introduced that risks making the situation worse. Which is why FSB is calling for Highland Council to freeze fees and charges on areas such as waste, licensing and planning, and rents on its commercial properties, for at least two years. Very importantly, the introduction of controversial and costly innovations like the Short-term Lets Licensing Scheme, the Deposit Return Scheme and the Local Visitor Levy should be put on hold until the economy stabilises. Why gamble with businesses’ lives and the jobs they provide?

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