12th March 2020

Speaking about the UK Budget delivered on 11 March 2020, Trudy Morris, Chief Executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce, said:

“The Chancellor has today (11 March) announced a substantial package of measures to support individuals and businesses impacted by coronavirus. This is a welcome recognition of the unprecedented potential for economic impact that coronavirus presents. We particularly welcome the packages of support targeted at SMEs who are likely to be hardest hit.

“However, we would note that many of these measures highlight the economic issues already facing businesses across the UK. Of particular note, the 100% reduction for those eligible for Retail Discount highlights the negative impact that the outmoded non-domestic rates scheme has on the retail and hospitality businesses that are so important to our town centres.

“We recognise that non-domestic rates are a devolved matter in Scotland, and we strongly urge the Scottish Government to immediately follow suit on the announcements made by the Chancellor to ensure parity of support to Scottish businesses. We would also urge the Scottish Government to implement additional measures as necessary to support remote and rural communities like the North Highlands.

“We welcome the Chancellor’s announcement of additional funding to support businesses to start up and grow into new markets. In addition to the immediate risks of coronavirus, the ongoing issues of Brexit and the climate emergency will bring significant long-term challenges to business and support from Government will be required to address these.

“On infrastructure, of particular interest to businesses in the region is the Chancellor’s promise of £5bn to get gigabit-capable broadband into the hardest to reach places. As one of the UK’s most remote and rural mainland communities, we believe the North Highlands should be first in line to access this new funding.

“The Scottish Government is set to receive an additional £640m as a result of this Budget, and we would strongly urge the Scottish Government to use this to support investment in remote and rural communities. In particular, the Chamber is working hard to protect and develop air services in the region, and we will be looking to Scottish Government to match that ambition and to support our business case for improved air services from Wick John O’Groats Airport.”

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