Home   News   Article

Bad business? Warning for First Minister hopefuls that regulations 'will make life far harder' for Highland firms

By Andrew Dixon

Register for free to read more of the latest local news. It's easy and will only take a moment.

Click here to sign up to our free newsletters!

SNP leadership candidates Kate Forbes, Ash Regan and Humza Yousaf have been warned new and proposed Scottish Government regulations will make life far harder for small Highland businesses.

These include short-term lets licensing, the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), the local visitor levy and the proposed restrictions on the advertising and promotion of alcohol.

These have all faced a fierce backlash from businesses across the region, due to the damage it may cause to their interests.

Each of the candidates at the Inverness Courier Leadership Debate were pressed on these issues highlighted in a question from Federation of Small Businesses' David Richardson, who wanted to know if they would actively listen to businesses and amend them accordingly.

Will they listen to businesses?

Humza Yousaf said that he would provide a grace period or exclude small businesses from the DRS, but he would not stop it. He said: "The DRS should not be paused, but we should exclude or pause it for small businesses.

"It is not the gin craft distilleries or small breweries who are causing the litter on the street.

"But, why should we let the Coca-Colas and Pepsis of the world get off with it, when they account for about 90 per cent of the volume of waste that is produced?"

He also said that the alcohol advertising consultation should be withdrawn as some of it, the Scottish Government would not do anyway, but instead work with the public health agencies to change the relationship Scottish people have with alcohol.

The health secretary stated: "Scotland has an exceptionally unhealthy relationship with alcohol, we have to accept that.

"We are suggesting to change that relationship. We should withdraw the consultation as some of it we are not going to do anyway and it is causing concern amongst business, so let's work both with business and with public health charities."

However, he did say that the short-term let licensing should stay in place, due to the lack of affordable housing in Scotland available to people. He stated that it was 'a good thing to keep and he would keep that in place'. He stated that the tourism levy is ultimately up to local authorities, as if it helps the local authority to raise some extra revenue then it 'was no bad thing'.

He said: "I would hate to be a young person in the Highlands or Inverness looking to be on the housing market. We need more affordable housing available for our young people."

Kate Forbes also stated, like she previously has, that she would put a pause on the DRS and alcohol advertising, that is due to be rolled out in August. She said: "I’ve already raised concerns with the pieces of legislation – DRS and alcohol advertising in particular.

"Highland businesses have weathered storm after storm: Brexit and the impact on trade; Covid, with hospitality shut down; and they are now facing the cost of living and energy crisis which is causing inflation on food and drink especially.

"Businesses need a break and some breathing space, they don't need the government layering more on top of them.

"I think we need to pause it. Businesses are committed to the scheme, but they need to work and the key is the delivery and implementation of it, not the policy aims."

She said she has always had concerns about tourism levy but that is ultimately up to the local authority, and its the same to an for the short-term liscensing, but she said that was about balance.

She said that she would not change the short-term let licensing or the tourism levy, as that was for local authorities to decide upon.

However, Ash Regan differed on her view of short-term let licensing, saying that she would pause the scheme in rural areas, as it was a different case there from bigger cities like Edinburgh.

She said: "We need to look at that again, and have more flexibility or pause it in rural areas where the issues are different, [than bigger cities]."

She stated that she had always had concerns about DRS and alcohol advertising.

Kate Forbes. Picture: Callum Mackay..
Kate Forbes. Picture: Callum Mackay..

Keeping younger people in the north

John Murray, from Murray Retail Ltd, asked how they would attract, encourage and support more young people to live and work in the Highlands and Islands.

Housing and public transport were among the main elements that candidates would prioritise.

For Kate Forbes, it is about supporting small businesses as well as building affordable homes and reducing costs for everyday expenses for young people.

She said: “We look at our demographic projections and things are quite worrying across Scotland, but particularly in the Highlands and Islands, and the future of our economy relies on that.

“Three things that I think we need to be done urgently: first of all, support small businesses: they are the ones creating well-paid and secure jobs. If they are spending all their money on more bureaucratic government regulation, they are not creating jobs or paying a fair wage.

“Secondly, affordable housing, which is in a state of huge challenge, and it’s particularly acute in certain areas. That is about building more genuinely affordable homes, and ensuring that young people can either access somewhere to rent or to stay that is warm and affordable.

“The next thing is around costs – there have been steps that we have made, for example on concessionary bus travel.I know it from my teenage stepdaughter’s perspective: they’ll jump on a bus, they are now able to get to work in a way that they could not before because they used to spend the first hour’s wage on the bus there and the last hour's on the bus back. But that's not great if there is no bus service.”

Looking at building housing for young people, Ash Regan said being an independent country would help in decentralising powers to communities around Scotland and address needs locally as well as building houses across the country to be put on public rent and making prices “as low as we can get them”.

She said: “Housing is obviously a key factor. We are obviously in a position where in many Highland communities locals are being completely priced out of buying homes in their own area which is not good.

“I am also suggesting that we undertake a big programme of house building: that would be across the country looking about using the Scottish National Investment Bank so that would be for public rent. They will be very high quality but keep rents as low as we can get them. That would encourage more people in.”

Giving councils the ability to increase council tax on holiday homes and invest in local opportunities for training and education was at the core of Humza Yousaf’s proposal.

He said he would put £25 million upfront to enable to buy back empty properties.

He added: “I would also be giving the power to local authorities and councils to increase the council tax on holiday homes because I think that would either disincentivise the purchase of these holiday homes that for many months just stay empty or get additional revenue to be reinvested into creating affordable housing.

“Maybe there's something to be done on top of that to make sure that that stock stays available for first-time buyers – young people by and large.

“The second thing is opportunities – I do think that investing in the likes of Inverness Campus and creating those opportunities in training and education and employment are really important. I have been working with the health board to see what more training we can bring into NHS Highlands – so we can keep for example training medical staff and nursing staff here."

Trudy Morris asking her question. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Trudy Morris asking her question. Picture: James Mackenzie.

Don't forget the Far North

All three candidates said they wanted to see more decisions being made closer to the communities they affect.

They were responding to a question from Trudy Morris, the chief executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce, who pointed out that rural communities in the north Highlands are too often left behind.

Kate Forbes said: "My vision for Scotland is focused on all areas of Scotland prospering economically, so rejecting the old-fashioned model where we’re basically relying on two cylinders, London and the south-east, and instead ensuring that no area of Scotland is left behind. And where all areas of Scotland are able to contribute, so we’re not caring about national GDP outcomes, we’re actually caring about how Caithness and Sutherland are doing, how Skye and Lochalsh is doing, and that requires three things.

"One – investment in infrastructure, two – reducing the regulatory burden so that you can thrive and prosper, and three – focusing on how we support you to create jobs and to grow and invest."

Ash Regan suggested that devolution has seen a slight improvement in investment in infrastructure, but argued that has not gone far enough.

"So if we’re talking about local funding decisions and capital spending, there’s an argument for that decision-making to be devolved further," she said.

Humza Yousaf agreed that decentralisation was part of the answer to making the government work for the whole of Scotland, and said he would want ministers to do more to travel to every corner of the country.

"I’d be quite keen to take the government to as far reaches as we can, so we can get to the people in rooms like this and understand their priorities, and they can quiz and question us," he said.

"The ethos of the government since we came in in 2007 was to be a listening government, to make accessibility to government ministers as easy as possible. Now your question clearly demonstrates to me that you don’t think we’ve done that enough."

Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More