Calls are being made for businesses in the Highlands & Islands to be allowed to trade – to help escape the “economic crisis” they are faced with due to Covid-19.
David Richardson, Highlands and Islands development manager at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), believes another lockdown or increase in Covid-19 levels by the Scottish Government could be a “deathknell” to Highland businesses.
He was reacting to data released by the Office For National Statistics (ONS) which shows 22% of Scotland’s single-site businesses are not trading despite lockdown restrictions lifting.
For the Highlands and Islands, the decrease in single-site business’ turnover is 10% higher than the UK average.
Mr Richardson said: “The key thing is that businesses must trade.
“The Highlands moving down a level is great news and the Islands going even further down is wonderful news.
“But as we found out last year it’s not enough in itself. Our customers don’t come from the Highlands they come from elsewhere and if we have to lockdown again or increase the levels and people can’t travel that’s a deathknell of Highland businesses.
The key thing is that businesses must trade.”
David Richardson, Highlands and islands development manager at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)
“To be allowed to open means there’s no more government support and you are left to stand on your own two feet. But if your customers can’t visit because they live in a part of a country that’s in a higher level then what are you supposed to do?
“You can trade but there’s no customers. That’s what happened last year. It put a lot of pressure on business so we must not have that again.
“Although business owners were hopeful that this year would perform better than last, many find themselves nearing the half-way point in a familiar position – with closed or heavily restricted businesses in a position of financial distress.
“The dire financial situation is particularly acute in the tourism and hospitality sector – a sector that lies at the heart of communities across the Highlands.
“These businesses have been yo-yoing out of lockdown restrictions for over 400 days now, and some are nearing the end of the line.
The dire financial situation is particularly acute in the tourism and hospitality sector – a sector that lies at the heart of communities across the Highlands.”
“Whilst additional financial support will undoubtedly be required to provide businesses with hardship support, Scottish Government Ministers will know that there is only one route of this economic crisis – and that is to let businesses trade.”
Family-owned business Highland House of Fraser has two retails shops in Inverness. The Bridge Street store reopened in April this year however, the Huntly Street shop has remained closed since the first lockdown in March last year.
Pauline Fraser, Highland House of Fraser general manager, said: “Currently, there is insufficient footfall for us to justify opening both of our Inverness retail shops.
“With a lack of international visitors, it is going to take us some time to be back to 100% trading capacity.
“We hope to re-open it later this month or July. We have to wait and see how we are progressing with sales and footfall.”
Highland MP Jamie Stone, who represents Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross, has accused the Government of not putting recovery first and letting Scottish businesses down.
He said: “Scotland is way behind the rest of the UK when it comes to businesses who are openly trading following the lifting of restrictions.
“The construction and hospitality industries, in particular, have really suffered. The tourism and hospitality sector in the Highlands is critical to our economy and it’s exactly that sector that is really struggling now.
“From the beginning of lockdown last year, I asked the UK and Scottish Government to work together on a tailored support package for the tourism industry – one that would tie it over through the low season so it could prepare itself to flourish this spring.
“Ignoring that call has meant that many hospitality businesses are still unable to trade despite the easing of restrictions allowing staycations to open up. Their negligence is simply unacceptable.”
Mr Richardson, added: “The ONS’s figures are very concerning but they are not unsurprising. Tourism and hospitality plays a very important role in the Scottish economy and, as we all know, the Highlands & Islands is particularly dependent on its visitor economy.
“After a sluggish start the economy is starting to open up but it has not been as busy as many had anticipated.
“However, before we jump to conclusions we must first gather in hard evidence, and that is what FSB Scotland is doing right now across the Highlands & Islands Enterprise area.
“The results will make essential reading for politicians and policy-makers.”