Reaching the age of 125 is a significant achievement and we were honoured that Inverness Chamber of Commerce’s anniversary was celebrated at a civic reception last week.

It is right that such an occasion was marked. But I think it is even more important to be aware of the need to sustain and develop our relevance to the business community, now and in the future.

A personal anniversary falls on 1 September, when I will have been ten years in the post of chief executive, and the growth of the organisation during that time is something that makes me very proud.

When I started, I was one of just two staff, working above a domestic garage serving a membership of 310 and with a turnover of less than £150,000. We now have a 420 strong membership and a significantly increased turnover, managed by a team of 14 based in the city centre.

I confidently assert that Inverness Chamber of Commerce is the voice of business in the Highlands. We truly and effectively connect businesses in a way that no other Highland-based organisation does.  Furthermore, I believe that we are the most ambitious and effective business membership organisation in the region.

As a small business at the heart of that community – Inverness Chamber of Commerce gets relationships; which is why our ethos is ‘Connecting Highland Businesses’. 

Our four key areas of activity deliver the best support to our growing membership. These are: membership, events, international trade and project activity. 

Our membership offering is under constant review so that businesses of all sizes and sectors across the Highlands and beyond obtain clear benefits from engaging with us.  

Our annual events programme is larger, wider-ranging and more impressive than ever and includes the prestigious Highland Business Dinner in just over two weeks’ time, and our highly-acclaimed annual Highland Business Week, featuring the Highland Spotlight exhibition and Highland Business Awards.

On international trade we work closely with other chambers of commerce in the Highlands and are active in the Scottish Chamber of Commerce network. In addition, we are one of only eight chambers in Scotland that are accredited to British Chambers of Commerce, ensuring we are uniquely placed to work for our members at both Holyrood and Westminster and are ‘hard-wired’ to the global network of international chambers.

Projects include delivering the Scottish Government’s Developing the Young Workforce Programme for Inverness and Central Highland (DYWICH) which will bring about real and lasting cultural change for the region’s young people, their parents, teachers and SMEs.

We also campaign and lobby to improve infrastructure including air, rail and road transport links as well as increasingly important enhancements to the high-speed broadband network.

Hourly trains to Aberdeen and the Central Belt are absolutely essential. Recently we saw an announcement of a £10 million contract to improve journey times on the Highland Main Line. That amount is just loose change in rail infrastructure terms and for a 10-minute journey time improvement. Really?

If journey times between Inverness and the Central Belt matched those between the Central Belt and London they would be halved rather than having a five per cent reduction this ‘improvement’ will bring.

We are now leading, with Drew Hendry MP, efforts to make Inverness Scotland’s next Gigabit City. We’ve seen recently that Aberdeen will get a £1.4 billion benefit from the £40 million CityFibre investment in superfast broadband, and we need to be going in the same direction.

Our previous interventions have secured significant benefits for the Highlands and we aim to ensure these continue in future.