13th November 2019

In Trudy’s latest Leader column, she welcomes an opportunity to help shape a proposed Rural Communities Bill.

With the focus over the past few years so prominently on nationwide political issues – most notably the ongoing Brexit process – it can be easy for policymakers to forget that Scotland’s communities and the businesses within them have their own unique set of needs.

While there are many things which unite businesses across Scotland, it’s also clear that businesses in remote and rural areas like the North Highlands face their own unique set of challenges and opportunities. Whether that’s with regards to transport, infrastructure, securing investment or simply attracting the right talent, there are many things which set businesses in the North Highlands aside from those in the Central Belt.

That’s why we as a Chamber were pleased to see and support Gail Ross MSP’s recent announcement of a consultation on a Remote Rural Communities Bill which aims to recognise and build on the good work done by the Islands Bill.

The Islands Bill contains a number of provisions to ensure that all policies set by government agencies are “island-proofed”, and that an assessment of the likely impacts on island communities is carried out before policies are put in place.

Like our counterparts on the Islands, those of us living and working in remote and rural communities need recognition from central government, local authorities, and government agencies alike that we face a unique set of challenges and opportunities, and that policies designed with the Central Belt in mind have the potential to negatively affect us.

A good example of this would be the recent Workplace Parking Levy, which appears to be designed very much with high-density urban environments in mind. Within cities, which often have strong public transport links and offer greater opportunities for active travel, it may be easy to argue that such a levy will help to disincentivise use of private transport and move commuters towards lower-carbon alternatives.

Within the Highlands itself, it may even be reasonable to make a similar argument for the Inverness commuter area. However, in a community like the North Highlands, where public transport links can be sporadic and commuters may travel significant distances to and from work, it is hard to see how such a levy would be an appropriate solution.

Transport is the most obvious way in which remote and rural communities can suffer as a result of centralised policymaking, but there are many other areas where our unique needs ought to be considered. The Chamber has recently raised concerns regarding the Highland Council’s proposed Transient Visitor Levy, noting the very different concerns facing tourism businesses in the North Highlands compared to those elsewhere in Scotland.

It’s important that businesses and individuals across the North Highlands contribute to the consultation on the proposed bill, as this will help shape it and ensure it is built in a way which meets the needs of those living and working in the area. We would encourage everyone across the region to make their voice heard by completing the survey.

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