FSB’s man in the Highlands says we must encourage and support local independent businesses

Dismissing independent businesses as "lifestyle businesses" misses the point.
Dismissing independent businesses as “lifestyle businesses” misses the point.

by David Richardson, regional development manager at FSB

Throughout the pandemic I’ve used this column to flag up the FSB survey results that tracked how Highland business were faring. However, while it’s good to lump data together when talking to politicians, policymakers, public agencies and the media, FSB members are first and foremost proud, passionate, independent-minded individuals, not herd animals.

Each member has his or her own reasons for being in business, and their own way of doing things within their own market and community, and each has been affected differently.

Running a business in the Highlands is far from easy. Remoteness from markets, low population densities, seasonality, staff shortages, rising costs and squeezed margins all take their toll.

FSB regional development manager David Richardson.
FSB regional development manager David Richardson.

But despite this, owners are resilient and they persevere – and they shine every year at the FSB’s UK Celebrating Small Business Awards.

Having worked with and for Highland businesses for over a third of a century, it’s clear that very few are in it to get rich quick, which is not to say that money isn’t important – it is. But whenever I talk to FSB members, I’m struck by the emphasis they place on living in the Highlands and being members of their communities.

Whether they’ve been born and raised here or moved here as adults, simply being here trumps profits.

Some like to dismiss them as “lifestyle businesses”, but that misses the point. Of course, Scotland needs growth, but people who continue to operate year after year in the most difficult circumstances because they believe both in what they do and in their communities, can, in their own dogged and determined ways, be just as “ambitious” as the Mark Zuckerbergs of this world.

The population is ageing and declining in many parts of the Highlands. If we are to reverse this trend and ensure healthy, vibrant communities with busy schools, shops, leisure facilities and more, then we must celebrate and encourage the folk who start up and run small, local, independent businesses. And we must use them if we don’t want to lose them.

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