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NESS NOTEBOOK: Good luck to our businesses at this critical festive time

By David Sutherland

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Will people flock to the city centre for festive celebration or save money by staying at home?
Will people flock to the city centre for festive celebration or save money by staying at home?

The run up to Christmas is under way – and the Inverness retail and hospitality sectors are on tenterhooks to see how much you’ll splash out.

Will it be “caution thrown to the wind” – or will folk opt instead to save some tenners under the smartmeter for when energy costs bite hard in a Highland winter? We’ll see…

It’s great that the Christmas party season is back with top hotels like the Kingsmills and Drumossie ready to dole out food, wine, music and laughter in a way not seen since December 2019 – mind you, bookings were busy last year until the First Minister announced that people shouldn’t go out, then cancellations poured in.

Folk deserve, finally, to visit their families this festive season without being in disguise.

It’s a relief to celebrate again and I hope Invernessians and Highlanders enjoy their Christmas. And the best way to do that is to forget what’s round the corner after Jeremy Hunt’s ‘Bah, Humbug’ fare has left the Office For Budget Responsibility elves predicting real household disposable income per person will fall more than seven per cent over the next two years. Pass me a sherry…

The Chancellor had to raise taxes – but hitting people in their pocket too much risks strangling economic revival. He should perhaps have given a more optimistic signal than hiking taxes to their highest level since the end of World War II.

Mind you, John Swinney hasn’t exactly triggered choruses of Ding Dong Merrily On High by slashing £400 million off the Scottish Government’s health and social care budget, just when these services are so badly stretched.

The pandemic threw a new light on people’s mental health, and our understanding of it, so it’s rather disturbing to see Mr Swinney cutting £38 million from the mental health budget.

Hopefully the tills will jingle – actually, they’re electronic now and haven’t jingled for years – in local pubs, restaurants and hotels. Many of these businesses, faced with soaring heating costs, need to make healthy profits over the festive season to see them through the winter.

I fear one or two may be enjoying their final Christmas unless they can secure extra funding.

The Eastgate Shopping Centre and all our other shops need to sell oodles of prezzies to keep things going in the January gloom. Fingers crossed for them.

Mind you, our local council bigwigs haven’t helped with their penny-pinching decision to scrap the Christmas Lights switch-on ceremony and torchlight procession. Didn’t they have a shilling for the meter? And the flames from torches don’t pile on the kilowatts!

This is a Recession Christmas but it’s actually true that businesses which are light on their feet, and quick to react, can spot opportunities in such a scenario.

Those which have safeguarded some cash, and taken good advice, could take full advantage by swimming against the recession tide.

So good luck to our business community at this critical time.

Inverness has often shown its grit, endurance and sustainability in challenging times. I look forward to it doing so again over the next few months.

Until then, stay full of festive cheer – and have a very merry Christmas!

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