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DAVID RICHARDSON: The Federation of Small Business's regional development manager for the Highlands and Islands argues that the UK Government's levelling up funds must be invested in areas of greatest need – rural communities

By David Richardson

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

Highland Council is now consulting on how best to invest its £9.4 million share of the UK government’s shared prosperity fund, intended to help the UK “level up” and “overcome deep-seated geographic difficulties”.

The aim is to: grow the private sector to boost productivity, pay, jobs and living standards; spread opportunities and improve public services; restore a sense of community, local pride and belonging; and empower local leaders and communities.

Highland communities need well-balanced populations if they are to thrive, for it is strong, vibrant businesses, and local economies providing good job prospects, that retain talented young people and attract the young people and families we need. So, what are Highland Council’s three objectives, as set out in its draft investment plan? Creating stronger and more resilient communities; supporting local businesses; and boosting people and skills.

All very important, laudable and desirable, but with staff and skills shortages, plus ageing and declining populations, blighting so much of rural Highland, perhaps the money would best be invested in levelling up the areas struggling most.

Ultimately, £9.4 million is a small sum for fulfilling these important ambitions. Success really does depend on joined-up thinking and goodwill from politicians, public agencies, businesses and communities alike.

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