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Investment will be needed to ensure businesses can rebuild and grow


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CHAMBER COMMENT by Trudy Morris

In these unprecedented times, with coronavirus continuing to impact on every aspect of life in the UK, we are all having to get used to a new reality and deal with changing advice and guidance on a daily and hourly basis. Throughout this period the Caithness Chamber of Commerce team will be working hard to support local businesses, take their concerns to the Scottish and UK governments, and do everything we can to ensure that we get through this together.

Urgent as this crisis is, however, we need to remember that this too shall pass, and that, whatever changes happen in the coming months, businesses in the north Highlands will continue to face many of the same challenges and opportunities as before, in addition to new ones. As well as supporting our members through this immediate crisis, we will also be working hard to ensure that we don’t lose sight of the long-term priorities and hopes for the area.

Getting the economy back up and running will need to be a major priority for governments. This will require investment in regions like the north Highlands, both to provide economic stimulus and to ensure that businesses have access to the critical infrastructure and services they need to rebuild and grow.

Most pressing is our continued requirement for strong transport connectivity. Prior to the impacts of coronavirus – and to Loganair announcing its withdrawal from the Wick/Edinburgh route – the Chamber presented to Transport Scotland a business case for a public service obligation (PSO) from Wick to both Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

Loganair chief executive Jonathan Hinkles announced an end to Wick/Edinburgh flights.
Loganair chief executive Jonathan Hinkles announced an end to Wick/Edinburgh flights.

This report lays out in clear terms the requirement for Scottish Government support for air services from the region and presents an innovative model for PSO with net zero carbon at its heart, which offers strong economic benefits to the region and which represents a sustainable return on investment for Scottish Government.

We will be working hard to ensure we don’t lose sight of the long-term priorities and hopes for the area.

While we recognise the challenges facing the aviation industry UK-wide, it is important to remember that the degradation of air services from Wick is not a new issue, nor are the challenges facing regional aviation across the UK. Securing a PSO which offers the connections businesses need to both Aberdeen and Edinburgh is a key priority for the Chamber, and we will continue to work with partners locally to ensure that Scottish Government invests in the future of air services from Wick.

On a similar note, the recent impacts of coronavirus have shown just how crucial digital connectivity is to business in the region. Many businesses and their employees have been fortunate enough to have access to the connectivity they require to enable changes in working practices, but in a remote and rural area like the north Highlands there will also be many who struggle to adapt due to poor connectivity.

The current situation shows just how crucial digital connectivity is to business in the north Highlands.
The current situation shows just how crucial digital connectivity is to business in the north Highlands.

This highlights clearly the concerns around the delays in delivery of superfast broadband and mobile coverage to all areas of Scotland. In addition to rolling out standard fibre connections, many areas will require innovative solutions like line-of-sight wireless networks, and it is important that the unique concerns of these areas are taken into account as the roll-out continues.

To try and end on a more positive note, there are many long-term opportunities for the north Highlands, from the upcoming ScotWind offshore wind leasing round to the exciting plans for a vertical launch spaceport in Sutherland. All of these will require long-term focus to ensure that the region sees the greatest benefit.

The next few months are going to bring unprecedented challenges to businesses in the region. We will be here not only to support our members through the immediate crisis but to continue to work for the long-term benefit of the region. These are exceptional times, but we are all in it together.

  • Trudy Morris is chief executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce


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