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DAVID RICHARDSON: Green Freeport is a real win – but firms still need more support

By David Richardson

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David Richardson
David Richardson

The success of Opportunity Cromarty Firth’s green freeport bid is clearly wonderful news for the Inner Moray Firth and, hopefully, the wider Highlands.

The estimated 25,000 jobs and £6 billion contribution giving a massive boost to the local economy.

For while the freeport’s focus is on renewable energy projects that will “lead to new business opportunities and employment, attract inward investment, research and development, and position the Highlands at the heart of the country’s commitment to becoming a net-zero economy”, the benefits will spread throughout local economies and communities. Renewables businesses, their supply chains and their staff will buy goods and services locally, and they will need accommodation and associated infrastructuretoo, so exciting new opportunities should open up for smaller businesses.

However, right now far too many businesses are fighting battles for survival as the parlous state of the economy continues to take its toll.

Last month I talked about the need for governments to make smaller businesses’ overheads more manageable. Instead, the chancellor last week announced a substantial reduction in energy price support for businesses from April 1. Shockingly, a quarter of UK firms believe that they will have to close, downsize or radically restructure as a result.

We also need more targeted business rates reliefs for the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic, spiralling energy costs and other events beyond their control, and we need to look very closely at the proposed reforms to the vitally important Small Business Bonus Scheme, where some will lose their full relief. Our smallest traders must be protected from unaffordable rates bills.

Small businesses are continuing to work
towards net-zero targets, but in these cash-strapped times they will need support to help them comply with energy efficiency and other environmental measures.

And finally, something must be done about late payments, which have plagued our smallest traders for far too long. Indeed, over a half of Scotland’s small businesses have experienced late payment in recent months, a third saying that it is getting worse.

David Richardson is regional development manager at FSB.

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