By David Richardson, regional development manager at FSB
The Highlands might be very diverse economically, but wherever one lives, the run up to Christmas is traditionally a highlight of many businesses’ calendars, and especially those that help make living here a pleasure, such as independent shops, restaurants, bars and hotels.
For Christmas is the time they make much of the money needed to tide them over the fallow winter months before the economy reawakens in the spring.
Of course, recent Covid lockdowns have reduced all-important summer seasons and condensed trading for worried business owners. But, thankfully, our most recent FSB survey, which closed last week, found that Highland businesses have recovered a lot of lost ground since unlocking in April, and the future really should have been bright.
However, we now have the rapidly spreading Omicron variant, and it’s no surprise that confidence is plummeting.
Customer-facing businesses are having to reintroduce Covid measures that they had dearly hoped to have seen the back of, like physical distancing and protective screens in retail and hospitality.
But there’s much more to it than that, for the call to minimise social contact before and after Christmas is acting like a bucket of iced water on those planning to go out and spend on our high streets or take short breaks away from home.
And it doesn’t stop there, for what about the many producers and distribution firms that supply front-line businesses?
Drops in demand hit them hard too, and if fewer people visit restaurants, shops and so on, these businesses will need fewer staff – though many are already short-staffed.
A reduction in earnings is the very last thing that anyone wants to experience at Christmas.
We all hope that the current Covid upsurge will be short-lived and that 2022 will indeed be very good for our local independent businesses. However, if they are to survive then thrive, those in dire need must be supported.
It is essential that both Holyrood and Westminster find the money necessary to keep key elements of our business community alive, and soon.