REMOTE Ross-shire communities face losing lifeline local businesses to cost-cutting competition from supermarket deliveries, it has been claimed.
A “use it or lose it” warning was issued yesterday as one award-winning store owner in Applecross revealed takings had slumped since Tesco started delivering by van from Dingwall up to four times a day – at a charge starting at just £1.
Alastair Brown was a Countryside Alliance award winner back in 2012 for his efforts to breathe new life into the community through the Applecross Village Shop and General Stores he took over nine years ago.
Before the shop, which includes a post office, opened, locals faced a 40-minute drive over the notorious, winding Bealach na Ba mountain pass rising nearly 675 metres – or an hour’s journey around a rugged, windswept coastal road just for basic amenities.
Remote Applecross, almost 70 miles from Dingwall, is at risk of being cut off during treacherous winter weather.
Mr Brown, who took over the shop nine years ago, said that while he doesn’t blame local people wanting to save money, the Tesco deliveries have had a big impact.
He said: “I reckon business is 40 per cent down since Tesco started deliveries around two years ago.”
The store used to sustain six jobs, four full-time and two part-time. That has now dwindled to three.
“There’s not a lot we can do. It has lost me quite a few customers.” he said. At times, he’s seen four delivery vans roll up within a two-hour time slot. “We do have some really good customers. You can’t really blame them – they are trying to save pennies. We might all go to town once a month to stock up. That’s different. Tourists don’t know the area and might come in to get something they have forgotten.
“If the local wee place isn’t open, they might go away and tell others ‘Don’t go there’. Over the next few years, I think a lot of the wee places will go.”
Mr Brown and his wife Seonag were hailed with the 2012 Countyside Alliance award for never turning anyone away and going “a long way to reinvigorate this isolated community’s spirits”.
David Richardson, Feder-ation of Small Businesses development manager for the Highlands and Islands, said: “The competitive presence of supermarket home-delivery vans on all roads and in all communities throughout the Highlands has had a big impact on small, local businesses.
“At the end of the day, consumers have a choice: to support their local shopkeepers and keep them and any staff they employ in work; or to use supermarket home-deliveries and watch their local shops close.
“Also, older people in remote communities, who can’t or won’t shop online, will be left high and dry if their local shops close, and once a business closes the owners and their children, if they have them, frequently have to move away in search of jobs. It begs the question, what sort of communities do we need and want in the Highlands? I encourage your readers to keep trade local.”
Ross-shire MSP Gail Ross said: “I was surprised and concerned to hear about this. While visiting the area last week I was contacted by a few folk who were concerned at the number and frequency of Tesco delivery trucks on the roads in the area, but they didn’t share with me any concerns that local shops were being jeopardised as a result of deliveries.
“I plan to meet with representatives from Tesco to discuss the process they use for logistics when transporting groceries to South West Ross and I will ensure the issues which have been raised with me will be on the agenda for that meeting.”
A Tesco spokesman confirmed deliveries to Applecross are made from the Dingwall superstore and are available from £1.
The spokesman said: “Customers tell us they really value the great products and customer service our grocery home shopping service provides. From our work across the communities we serve, to our support for local suppliers, we are really proud of the contribution we make to the Highlands and Islands.”