Inverness Courier: Business Focus

Published in the Inverness Courier. April 3rd 2018.

Many of you will have read or heard the news about the new report from the Scottish Government which explores the impact of Brexit on Scotland’s growth sectors.  Focusing on six recognised sectoral strengths - food & drink, sustainable tourism, life sciences, creative industries, energy and financial & business services – the report has as much relevance for the Highlands as Scotland as a whole, given that most of these industries feature prominently in our local economic mix.

Unsurprisingly, the report’s analysis makes for some worrying reading.  Businesses operating in food & drink and sustainable tourism, for example, are already being hit by the lower influx of workers from EU countries.  As a consequence, they are already struggling to fill job vacancies.  What’s more, the threat of a ‘no deal’ scenario and the introduction of World Trade Organisation (WTO) tariffs could add to their troubles by affecting the Protected Geographic Indication status for flagship Scottish produce; in addition to creating supply chain issues and new regulatory challenges.  Likewise, for creative industries, life sciences and renewable energy businesses, losing access to EU funding is a real and critical threat that could also impact negatively on their attractiveness to foreign investors.

The report also highlights a unanimous agreement amongst industry leaders that continued uncertainty surrounding the ongoing negotiations remain a major concern.  For many, this is making it more difficult to put in place or invest in plans to mitigate anticipated risks.  For some, it is already too late, impacting on planned investments that could have delivered jobs and growth.  This is especially the case for SMEs which have been disproportionately impacted, simply because they cannot access the capital to resource contingency plans for a scenario that might not ever come to pass.

However, while I share their fears and concerns in so many ways, I’d like to raise this point: if Brexit is now inevitable, is focusing so singularly on the challenges going to do us any good?  Surely, our focus as the region’s business leaders should now be on working together to mitigate these predictions and maximize any potential benefits that can be gleaned from this process?

In recent months, a number of personalities have joined the debate by playing devil’s advocate and highlighting some of the different ways in which we can make Brexit a real opportunity.  Celebrity Chef, Gordon Ramsay, for example, recently remarked that Brexit will be good for the restaurant industry in that it will put an emphasis on homegrown talent and creating career opportunities and formal training opportunities such as apprenticeships.  Other commentators across national media have also highlighted the boost Brexit could generate for manufacturing, citing the recent example of BMW choosing Oxford over Germany and the Netherlands as the location for building its new electric Mini.

Ultimately, if we are to avoid talking ourselves into a downturn, the glass needs to be half full.  And that is what Chambers of Commerce are for!  Of course we want to hear your concerns, and it is our duty to voice these at the highest levels of Government.  I strongly believe that by working together we can make Brexit work for the Highlands & Islands and Scotland as a whole.  Yes, the world will be different, but nothing is more constant than change – and that’s something we can be certain about. Let’s embrace it, in spite of our doubts and make sure our businesses prosper, and our city and region continues to thrive by attracting inward investment from across the globe.