Highlanders have got what it takes for a successful recovery from Covid in 2022 – though challenges undoubtedly remain
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THE Highlands have many of the ingredients needed for a successful recovery in 2022, but significant challenges still remain according to business and political leaders.
Highland economist Tony Mackay said the centrality of hospitality and tourism to the region’s economy boded well but – as the reintroduction of restrictions in the wake of the Omicron variant showed – it was also a sector particularly vulnerable to changes in Covid.
“The local economy had a disastrous year in 2020 because of the pandemic with output declining by about nine per cent, which was worse than the Scottish average fall of 6.8 per cent,” he said.
“The main reason for the difference is the greater importance of the tourism industry in the Highlands.
“There has been a recovery during most of 2021 and I am currently forecasting growth of 3.5 per cent for the Highland economy in 2022.
“However, there is the new complication of the Omicron virus, which will obviously adversely impact the tourism and hospitality industries over the next few months.”
The work-from-home policy had actually benefited towns such as Dingwall and Alness with people engaging more with local businesses, he said, but David Richardson, Highlands and Islands development manager of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: “Repeated FSB surveys tell us how worried many businesses are about the future, which is bad both for business and their communities.
“However, we can all help by keeping our trade local.
“We must hope that the damage (caused by omicron) is short-lived and not crippling, and that we’ve seen the last of new Covid variants.”
He said that, assuming the situation does improve, the signs for an excellent tourist season in 2022 “appear bright”.
Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP Kate Forbes, also Scotland’s finance secretary, said: “We started January 2021 in lockdown, and we finished the year with a new variant spreading quickly.
“Despite that, businesses and households have demonstrated their resilience and compassion. I have great hopes for 2022.
“Firstly, I hope we won’t just recover economically, but we will prosper. We have almost recovered to pre-pandemic economic levels. But, in 2022, I want to see us go beyond that, displaying all the entrepreneurialism, character and determination that we’ve learned through the pandemic.
“In the Highlands, we’ve got great opportunities in renewable energy, in culture and tourism and in food and drink. I want to see more well-paid, secure employment in the Highlands as a result of these growing sectors.”
SNP colleague, Maree Todd, MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, struck a similarly optimistic note.
“As we come through the public health crisis and we look towards a Covid recovery, I hope this will bring new opportunities for those living and working in my constituency,” she said.
“We’ve seen cutting-edge developments in green technology over the past year and we know the Highlands is well equipped to further advance this. In making our assets work for us, I hope to see us lead the way in 2022 and secure high-quality jobs in green industries.”
Highlands and Islands list MSP, Labour’s Rhoda Grant, also hoped for a better year but said that she had been struck by how “those who had little before the pandemic have even less now”.
She said: “Many of us take food for granted, but the truth is tens of thousands of people in Scotland are living in food poverty.
“That’s why I’m consulting on a proposal for a Member’s Bill which would include a Right to Food in Scot’s Law.
“Many will have had to choose between heating and eating over the festive season. I want to see an end to this – that is my wish for the New Year, that in a rich country such as ours no one should go hungry.”