6th December 2019
As a Chamber, we have long argued that the North Highlands is an area within Scotland which faces its own unique set of challenges and opportunities, and that centrally set policies are often not appropriate to the unique needs of our communities and the businesses within them.
While it is the case that there are many things which unite businesses across Scotland, it’s also clear to us that businesses within the North Highlands have their own set of needs which need to be addressed. From transport and infrastructure to funding and talent attraction, there is much to set the needs of businesses in the region apart from those in the Central Belt.
That’s why we were pleased to support Gail Ross MSP’s recently announced consultation on a Remote Rural Communities Bill, which looks to recognise and build on the good work done by the Islands Bill.
The Islands Bill, which ensures that all public sector policies are “island-proofed” and have assessments of the impacts on island communities has had a real impact in ensuring that the needs of those communities are considered by government agencies. We believe that the Remote Rural Communities Bill is a strong step in the right direction when it comes to ensuring that similar consideration is given impact of policymaking on remote and rural communities.
Like our counterparts on the islands, businesses based in remote and rural communities like the North Highlands need recognition from government bodies that the policies they set have the potential to negatively affect us in ways which are simply not the case for businesses based in denser, urban areas.
The Workplace Parking Levy, for example, is a good example of a policy designed to address concerns unique to high-density urban environments. Within cities and larger towns, which often have strong public transport links and opportunities for active travel, there may be an argument to be made for such a levy to help disincentivise use of private transport and move commuters to more environmentally-friendly alternatives.
However, in a community like the North Highlands where commuters face significant distances between home and workplace and limited public transport options, it is hard to see how such a levy could be considered appropriate.
Similar concerns can be raised with the Scottish Government’s proposal to allow Councils to charge a levy on visitors to the area. Here again we feel it is important to recognise that the challenges raised by high levels of tourism faced in cities are very different to those in the North Highlands, and that a policy designed with cities in mind may simply not be appropriate for this area.
We believe it is important that individuals and businesses across the North Highlands make their voices heard on these issues and contribute to the consultation. We encourage everyone across the region to visit remoteruralcommunities.scot today to make their voices heard.