5th May 2020
It’s safe to say that recent weeks have proven uniquely challenging for Caithness Chamber of Commerce and the businesses that we represent. Remote and rural areas like the North Highlands already face a set of challenges unlike those in central Scotland, and the lockdown necessitated by the global COVID-19 pandemic has both heightened those existing challenges and brought its own set of difficulties.
Since the start of this crisis, the Chamber team has been hard at work doing everything we can to support our members, and we wanted to take this opportunity to highlight some of our efforts in our region to get through this difficult time.
Membership Support and Guidance
Chamber membership has always granted businesses access to a variety of useful services, and many of these have proven of particular value to our members over the past few weeks. Of particular note is the ChamberHR service provided by Quest, which gives members access to a 24/7 HR advice line and document library.
With many businesses trying to understand the complexities and legal niceties of furloughing staff, and many more faced with difficult decisions to make in the coming weeks and months, access to professional HR advice has been invaluable in helping many of our businesses navigate the current landscape.
As a small business ourselves, we’re also well aware that all of our members will be looking closely at their cashflow at this difficult time. As a result, we decided to offer all of our existing members an additional three months of free membership, ensuring that they retained access to valuable services without having to worry about another bill to pay.
We have also extended a three-month “time to pay” offer to any new members joining us in April and May, meaning that new members can immediately access all the benefits of Chamber membership while deferring payment until later in the year.
Part of the Chamber’s role in supporting local businesses has always been to summarise and distribute information of interest to our members. With so much information and so many different support schemes announced, one of the key services to our members over the past weeks has been providing quick and easy access to all the latest information they need to know.
A key service the Chamber has always undertaken on behalf of its members is lobbying at all levels of Government to ensure that the voice of business in the North Highlands is heard. This has taken on a new importance and urgency in the past weeks, and the Chamber has been hard at work to ensure that support for businesses has been tailored to the needs of our members.
While the initial large commitments by both UK and Scottish Governments in support of business were welcome, it quickly became clear that there were significant gaps affecting the ability of businesses in the North Highlands to access this.
Working through the Scottish Chambers network, we were able to quickly bring the concerns of our members to the highest levels of Government. While there are still some businesses which are not
eligible for support, many of the key gaps affecting small businesses – support for businesses with multiple premises and for the recently self-employed, for example – have quickly been addressed.
We have also been able to act to remove barriers to our members offering support in the local community. For example, working through Scottish Chambers we were able to enable a local distillery to quickly secure necessary licenses to purchase denatured alcohol and manufacture hand sanitiser for distribution to the local community.
Reset, Restart, Recover
In addition to supporting our members through the crisis, the Chamber also has a key role to play in what comes next. With UK and Scottish Governments both looking at how they can start to ease restrictions and restart the economy, it is important that they continue to listen to and support businesses.
The Chamber will continue to work closely with our members as Government plans progress, to ensure that Government is aware of and understands their concerns and needs and provides the appropriate support.
It is also important that we don’t lose sight of the long-term goals we have for this region. Looking to the future, the Chamber will continue to lobby for vital projects such as a Public Service Obligation from Wick John O’Groats Airport, ensuring that businesses have access to the infrastructure they need to enable the economic recovery of the North Highlands.
Read the Covid-19 dedicated pages for the most up to date information on the support available. There is a specific section for Chamber members and new members are welcome to join with a payment deferral option.