New chamber will strengthen business voice

This month I will be attending the official launch of the Outer Hebrides Chamber of Commerce which has reformed after a near ten year gap.

This is a significant step, not just for businesses in the islands, but also the wider Highlands and Islands business community.

Having its own local chamber again allows members big and small to work collectively to promote the area, its products and services while receiving advice and support to guide them through what are increasingly uncertain times.

Inverness Chamber of Commerce is now 126 years old and was delighted to be able to assist the newest member of the chamber family. We have been working with our Stornoway-based colleagues for some time and played an important role in helping them become re-established.

The Outer Hebrides Chamber is based on our model and is affiliated to the British Chambers of Commerce through us, providing access to BCC member services, as well as a myriad of support mechanisms.

Our international trade team has provided invaluable support to the new organisation, allowing businesses to grow by taking advantage of export opportunities and offering guidance on regulations governing overseas trade.

The new chamber is also now part of the Highlands and Islands Export Partnership, which provides SMEs across the region with increased opportunities for their goods and services, and Open 4 Business Highlands and Islands, the free online portal managed by Inverness Chamber that provides companies with greater openings to secure work and helps suppliers advertise to a wide audience.  

The Outer Hebrides undoubtedly has challenges, but also has massive opportunities in areas such as tourism, food & drink and renewables, as well as traditional products such as Harris Tweed.

A chamber of commerce gives the area back its business voice and provides knowledge on the ground of what business needs are. It adds local perspective and allows it to have a say in policy discussions within the Scottish and British chambers. Without a local body it is at least one step removed from major policy decisions.

Strategically, this move benefits the chamber network across the Highlands and Islands which is strengthened and enhanced as a result. While individual chambers have a local focus, collectively we work to promote economic growth in the area and actively campaign for investment in infrastructure and transport systems to ensure the specific needs of the business community are met.

That collaboration is vital during the unpredictable period approaching. No one knows what will  happen after Brexit other than the lack of clarity is likely to continue.

Against that backdrop, having an additional organisation, with the expertise and skills it brings, means we add another powerful link to the chain of businesses representation.