A frustrated businessman has revealed he is being forced to accommodate staff in his own home because of a severe housing shortage in the rural Highlands.
Paul Maden, who employs 18 workers at his luxury chocolate company Cocoa Mountain, claims the lack of housing in Sutherland is having a severe impact on business.
Mr Maden, who runs a factory, shop and cafe at Durness and a new shop in Dornoch, said: “Support with housing would make a critical difference to my business and ultimately the local economy.
“To try to fill the gap, I am providing a few staff with accommodation in my own house, but that can’t go on forever and it’s not ideal.
“It’s been a very frustrating time for the company.”
He claims he could employ up to 30 people if accommodation were available, adding: “The area is suffering from depopulation and the school roll is dropping.
“We want to attract people to Dornoch and Durness, and there are people willing to move here, but they are being put off because of the lack of available housing.”
MSP David Stewart, who was contacted by Mr Maden, is urging authorities to put their heads together to help solve the housing problem in remote, rural areas.
Highland Council say their allocations policy would not include “essential incoming workers”.
Mr Stewart said: “This is a classic case of there being no tick box for Mr Maden’s situation. There is no category for providing vital social housing for rural workers who are way down the standard points-based housing list, so if there is no rented accommodation available then it’s a real problem.
“It’s a problem that is holding back the development of areas such as Durness. The success of the NC500 is putting further strain on the amount of property available to rent.
“If the Scottish Government is serious about backing small Highlands businesses then it should be looking at programmes that could help and I will be writing to Economy Secretary Keith Brown to see if he can intervene.”
Council leader Margaret Davidson said: “During consultation with members on our new council programme, there was a real focus on housing being a priority and making the Highlands an attractive place to live and work.
“This is not something we can deliver on our own in isolation and we need our community planning partners to fully engage on this priority.”