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Keeping businesses alive is paramount, says FSB development manager

By Alan Hendry

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

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

The good news is that Highland businesses left 2021 in significantly better heart than they entered it.

According to FSB survey work, one in four Highland firms said they were struggling this winter, compared with three in four this time last year. However, things are still far from rosy, with around a third believing that conditions will deteriorate. Low confidence is the great enemy, for it stifles desires to start up and grow businesses, and right now Caithness and Sutherland need as many new and expanding businesses as they can get.

Pessimism in the Highlands was centred on rising overheads, staff shortages, the potential for future lockdowns/restrictions, low turnovers and squeezed margins. Understandably, given all that has happened over the past two years, a quarter of business owners warned that their own mental health was under strain.

But businesses are not powerless in the face of these obstacles, and those affected are reacting in various ways, including doing all they can to cut their costs, reducing their hours of business and/or the services they offer, and putting their prices up. Sadly, while short-term survival might depend on it, these actions are frequently damaging for both businesses and their areas, especially if those concerned are in tourism and hospitality and they are operating in a visitor-based economy.

Here are three of the many things that can be done to help.

First, we should ensure that all small businesses hit hard by Covid restrictions are assisted with grant support. Hopefully Omicron will end soon, no new variants will appear, visitors – especially overseas visitors – will return and things will get back to normal, but keeping businesses alive meantime is paramount.

Second, individuals and the public sector can do more to support local businesses and their communities by wherever possible buying the goods and services they need from them rather than from large businesses elsewhere.

Finally, to help tackle population decline and build for the future, perhaps we could all work even more constructively together to make our communities better places to live, work and visit, and even more attractive places to move to.

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