Nearly 300 people eagerly packed into Drumossie Hotel, Inverness, last night for the first Highland Business Dinner since 2019.
Inverness Chamber of Commerce was forced to cancel its flagship annual events in 2020 and 2021 as Covid swept the world.
But the business body last night hailed the Highlands and UK being in a “much better place” than two years ago.
Guest speaker for the evening was award-winning journalist Clive Coleman.
For 10 years from 2010, Mr Coleman was the BBC’s legal correspondent – covering major stories across the BBC news, a role for which he won multiple journalism awards.
The former barrister has also turned his hand to writing for film, radio, television and theatre.
Addressing the black-tie audience, chamber president Andrew Stott highlighted skills and housing shortages as among the key issues which continue to challenge the local business community.
He said: “Almost every business I have spoken to in the last 12 months has said they have real problems recruiting staff.
“There is lots of work available for people to do but there are not enough people to deliver it.
“Allied to the skills shortage is the chronic lack of suitable housing for workers and their families to live in.
“It’s not rocket science. If there are not enough workers in the Highlands, we need to bring them in, and there needs to be suitable accommodation for those workers and their families to live in.”
Mr Stott, a partner with law firm Ledingham Chalmers, also acknowledged the “good work” with Inverness becoming a gigabit fibre-connected city, but asked: “What about the rest of the Highlands?”
Slow progress for A9 upgrades
The chamber’s president welcomed the completion of the second section – out of the 11 planned – of upgraded dual-carriageway since the Scottish Government committed, in 2014, to dualling the full distance of the A9 between Inverness and Perth.
But he also questioned whether the “grand promise made by our governing apparatchiks” that Perth to Inverness will be fully-dualled by the end of 2025 would be met.
“On current progress, that would be a firm ‘no’,” he added.
I would ask of all of you in the room how long you are going to put up with this state of affairs?”
Andrew Stott, president, Inverness Chamber of Commerce.
Mr Stott also highlighted widespread concerns about train services between Inverness and the central belt.
A lack of progress in upgrading the A96 Inverness-Aberdeen road and A9 north of Inverness were also raised.
“What I find so frustrating is these issues have been with us for the past 10 years and a lot more in some cases,” he said.
He added: “I realise Rome was not built in a day, but really, I would ask of all of you in the room how long are you going to put up with this state of affairs?”
And putting the power of private enterprise in the spotlight, he said: “Business provides economic wellbeing, jobs, mental wellbeing and, crucially, a sense of pride for employees and the local area.
“To state the obvious, it’s private business that provides the tax revenues that enable the state to function.
“Business is a massive power for good.”