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DAVID RICHARDSON: Time to get down to business now that dust has settled on Highland Council elections

By David Richardson

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David Richardson: 'Light-touch implementation of new rules and regulations is what is needed at this most difficult time'.
David Richardson: 'Light-touch implementation of new rules and regulations is what is needed at this most difficult time'.

The 5th of May has come and gone, the people have spoken, the election posters are being removed from lamp posts, the parties/groups have met, and the new Highland Council administration will be an SNP-Independent coalition.

Fine, but once the dust has settled, how can the Council and its councillors best support this region’s communities and their all-important local economies?

In the runup to the election I highlighted six low-cost, high-impact measures that FSB Scotland would like Highland Council to adopt to boost local recovery. However, since writing our election manifesto the economic outlook has grown progressively worse, globally, nationally and locally, with, amongst other things, rising inflation and reduced consumer spending power affecting us all.

Things remain very delicately poised for many businesses, for whom the longed-for post-pandemic recovery is still some way off. However, small businesses in Ross-shire are a resilient lot, and they are used to adapting to survive. They certainly shouldn’t be written off just yet, especially if they have an understanding, helpful, and supportive Highland Council behind them.

We want to see the Council buy even more goods and services locally, for much of it will circulate within the local economy; protect our high streets from damaging out-of-town developments; get its staff back into their offices urgently so that their personal spending power once more boosts our high streets; invest even more in business start-ups through Business Gateway; and ensure that all of its systems and processes for things like planning and licencing applications are fit-for purpose, quick, efficient and inexpensive for customers – putting them online helps enormously. Every day that planning applications are delayed for no good reason sees construction costs increase and developments become less viable.

But there’s more. Given advance warning, business owners are very welcoming and delighted to talk, and we’d like our newly-elected councillors to go all-out to meet them to better understand the world in which they have to operate, and also to gain an appreciation of how their prospects, positive and negative, can be affected by the Council’s actions.

For example, in devising its version of the new Short-term Lets Licensing Scheme for tourist accommodation, it is vital that Highland Council inflicts no economic harm on communities inadvertently because it failed to understand the consequences of its actions. Light-touch implementation of new rules and regulations is what is needed at this most difficult time.

David Richardson is Highlands and islands manager of the Federation of Small Businesses.

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