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Over 90 per cent of rural businesses confident they can reopen safely

By Alan Hendry

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Sarah-Jane Laing, chief executive of Scottish Land and Estates, says great care and thought needs to be given to plan recovery and regrowth in rural areas.
Sarah-Jane Laing, chief executive of Scottish Land and Estates, says great care and thought needs to be given to plan recovery and regrowth in rural areas.

More than 90 per cent of rural business owners in Scotland are confident they can reopen while safely adhering to social distancing measures, according to new survey.

Of the 250 businesses that responded, 56 per cent said they were confident they could reopen all of their business safely, while 36 per cent were confident they could safely reopen part of their business.

The survey was carried out by Scottish Land and Estates (SLE), the rural business membership organisation.

There was little variation in confidence between types of business covered, ranging from tourism to shooting and fishing and from renewable energy to farming.

However, businesses operating in food, drink and hospitality were less optimistic about reopening all of their business. Thirty-six per cent of those stated they were confident about reopening fully, with 54 per cent saying they were confident about reopening part of their business safely.

SLE is working with the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise and regional enterprise bodies to safely restart Scotland’s rural economy and the survey results will help in this work.

The organisation's chief executive Sarah-Jane Laing said: “This survey confirms that rural businesses are ready to help restart Scotland’s rural economy safely. Over 90 per cent of rural businesses that responded to our survey are confident they can maintain social distancing measures if they reopen all or part of their business.

“Our members want to ensure that their employees, visitors, customers and the local community remain safe and they are confident they can do this. This is great news in the short term but the reality is that maintaining social distancing measures medium to longer term could have damaging ramifications on the future sustainability of many rural businesses.

"Limiting visitor numbers at tourist attractions, holiday accommodation and weddings and reducing manufacturing or processing means many rural businesses will not be operating at full capacity. Add in the uncertainty around Brexit and trade deals, and all of this is likely to result in a loss of income which could jeopardise jobs in rural areas.

“Government support has been greatly welcomed and helpful to many rural businesses. However, some businesses are ineligible for the help they need.

"Not all issues are financial – there are environmental and personal costs too, which are harder to quantify. Great care and thought needs to be given to plan recovery and regrowth in rural areas to ensure their fragile economies continue to function in the future.

"The true extent of the cost of this pandemic will be ongoing for the foreseeable future and support will need to adjust to those challenges too. That’s why the Scottish Government needs to commit to future support to help rural Scotland thrive.”

The survey forms part of a wider report by SLE looking into the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on farms and estates across Scotland. This includes a third of respondents reporting a rise in rural crime such as fly-tipping and 20 per cent who felt they had been adversely affected by the pandemic but were ineligible for grants.

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