Amid the political turmoil the Highlands is getting on with business

The approaching year end is a time to reflect on 2019 and look forward to fresh opportunities in the coming year.

It’s been a challenging year for business, with the dominating and suffocating effect of Brexit impacting on growth, investment, planning and recruitment.

But there have been a number of highlights to demonstrate that the Highlands is very much a vibrant region and that we are getting on with business amid the political uncertainty.

British Airways significantly expanded its service between Heathrow and Inverness – a major boost for the region’s business sector which strengthened the Highland’s link to the world’s largest hub airport.

Some progress has been made on the A9 upgrade, which is welcome, although the programme still needs to be accelerated. This month I had also hoped to be reading the new Highland Main Line timetable, rather than more reports of the project’s delay, so any good news on that front in 2020 will be a great stride forward.

On the jobs front, we saw significant opportunities arise from the Beatrice Offshore Wind Farm, operated and maintained from Wick Harbour and which saw the final turbine installed this year.

Scotland's largest offshore wind farm has highlighted the importance of the renewables sector to the region and raised awareness of business’s role in the climate change debate.

The renewables industry has been engaging successfully with free online portal Open4Business Highlands & Islands which provides SMEs with greater opportunities to win business and helps suppliers and service providers advertise to a wide audience. Inverness Chamber of Commerce took over the running of the platform this year and results are already impressive.

As part of efforts to grow our future workforce, Inverness Chamber also renewed a deal to deliver the Scottish Government’s Developing the Young Workforce Programme for Inverness and Central Highland (DYWICH) for another two years.

This programme is bringing about real and lasting cultural change, improving career and learning opportunities and creating a culture of partnership between employers and education. The work has received endorsements from the First Minister and other government ministers, as well as from employers who have shown it is an important issue for them.

Our campaigning also saw us join forces with chambers in Caithness and Lochaber to oppose a proposed tourist tax. Whether ultimately successful or not, the joint submission showed that the chamber movement in the Highlands can be brought together to offer strong, local leadership on important issues. The re-launch of an Outer Hebrides chamber has further strengthened that network.          

We plan to hit the ground running in 2020 with our first networking event on 15 January and have arranged four trade missions, to Augsburg, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario, between February and May to support companies expanding into the German and Canadian markets.  Having increased our international team to provide a more comprehensive service to help businesses trading overseas, we also expanded and upgraded our city centre offices in Inverness to improve our overall offering to members.

The new year will also see the completion of the Justice Centre in Inverness, along with significant developments in the Old Town which will revitalise that part of the city.

And in the event of Brexit being done in January, we are ahead of the game in helping members get ready. We were the first Scottish chamber to introduce the cloud-based EdgeCTP software system to help SMEs streamline operations and comply with future trade rules and tariffs.

We hope by then the conversation has moved onto real political action which will get the economy started again.