This month, we’re thrilled to welcome Thistle Wind Partners (TWP), HD Bookkeeping, Visit Sandwood Ltd, O’Brien Recycling Ltd, and Highland Rural to our membership. We look forward to working with them all!
To discuss membership, please reach out to our Business Development manager, Fiona Levack. You can contact Fiona by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read about membership on the website using this link.
If you’re already a member but would like a reminder of how to get the most from your membership, Fiona will gladly go over that with you too.
November’s Executive Magazine is out now and we are delighted Caithness Chamber of Commerce Newsletter returns for its final outing of 2023 – jam-packed with the latest business news from our members across the North Highlands!
Scottish Chamber of Commerce, Quarterly Economic Indictor Q3 2023 Reports: High interest rates preventing interest in Scottish economy.
- Interest rates fear rising: Concern over interest rates has seen a significant increase over the quarter, rising from 37% of firms in the last quarter to half of firms, which is a five-year survey high.
- Inflationary concerns easing: Concern over inflation remains high among all firms but has eased generally over the quarter down to 70% from 75% in the last quarter.
- Price rises easing slightly: Less firms are indicating that they will raise prices this quarter compared to last, with just under half of firms (48%) saying they will raise prices compared to 55% last quarter.
- Investment flatlining: While more firms continue to report rises in investment than falls on balance, over half (55%) have reported no changes to total investment, which is a five-year survey high.
- Training investment also flatlining: Over half of firms (57%) have also reported no changes to training investment levels, this is another five-year survey high.
Stephen Leckie, President of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce said:
“These results indicate challenging trading conditions for firms, with inflation, interest rates, and labour shortages preventing growth and delaying investment. For too many businesses, the priority is firmly stuck on survival.
“Whilst business confidence is starting to pick up from the low levels of 2022, this renewed optimism is not translating into sustained performance and output from firms necessary to get our economy firing again.
“If Scotland is to maintain its competitiveness domestically and internationally, direction and impetus is needed from government north and south of the border in upcoming budget statements. These must outline clear steps to support business which instil confidence for investment and help stimulate growth.”
On inflation and interest rates:
“Our data shows that firms are becoming more concerned of rises in interest rates, which are designed to suppress consumer spend and make borrowing more expensive, both of which significantly impact firms.
“Looking ahead, we would urge the Bank of England to provide clarity on the future direction of interest rates or begin to allow time for the lag between rate hikes and the full effect on spending to be fully observed, so that there is less risk of causing unnecessary economic damage.”
“Scottish firms and indeed firms across the UK are actively pausing investment decisions.
“Businesses urgently require upcoming fiscal events to provide some respite for those struggling to survive and incentives for those looking to expand.
“To that end, we urge the Scottish Government to use the progress made through the New Deal for Business to demonstrate that it can listen to business and take action that will support growth, such as maintaining a fair personal taxation regime, reviewing non-domestic rates, and reducing regulation.”
On the upcoming Autumn Statement:
“Scottish firms will be looking to the upcoming Autumn Statement for the UK Government to play its part in unlocking investment. Pro-business measures are urgently needed. For example, reinstating the reduction in VAT for hospitality and tourism, putting in place a five-year rolling guarantee on the full expensing tax allowance, and removing the 10% tax hike on Scotch Whisky now in effect as announced in the Spring Budget.”
On the labour market:
“While recruitment difficulties have broadly stabilised for firms, they are still significant and labour continues to be the leading source of cost pressures as a result of wage settlements and pressures.
“These challenges demonstrate the importance of further measures to support firms recruiting and help people back into work.
“Policymakers must do more to help businesses invest to tackle the skills crisis and, at the same time, find ways to ease sectoral labour supply pinch points, through training programmes and opening up the immigration system to plug the gaps in the workforce.”
View from the Board. Stephen Sutherland, Chairman of Caithness Chamber of Commerce & Director JGC Engineering and Technical Services.
Stephen Sutherland, Chairman of Caithness Chamber of Commerce & Director JGC Engineering and Technical Services.
Connectivity is vital for north Highlands to prosper.
At the beginning of this month, we held our Annual General Meeting reflecting on the activity of the Chamber during the past year. For the first time we were in the Royal Thurso Hotel and several of our members, myself included, reminisced on many happy times there in days gone by, and we were delighted to be back. There was a warm welcome from the General Manager and staff, and it was refreshing to hear of forthcoming plans and upgrades to the hotel.
As we settle into Autumn, with its stretched shadows and crisp embrace, the year too reaches its final stretch. The changing seasons mirror our own need to evaluate and adapt, and at our AGM we reflected earnestly on the extremely challenging and increasingly harsh business environment.
Despite the challenging political landscape, we have never shied away from raising the issues that matter most to our business community to decision-makers in Holyrood and Westminster either directly or working with our Scottish Chambers of Commerce colleagues. We challenged government over ill-thought-out and burdensome regulations such as the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) and alcohol advertising restrictions; and we have continued to champion the Wick/Aberdeen PSO, for which we fought so hard.
At our Annual Dinner in September, a keynote address given by Dr Liz Cameron CBE, Chief Executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, again praised the creativity and resilience of the North Highland businesses community. The speech echoed concerns felt across our region, with threats to connectivity and failures to harness the vast economic potential voiced loudly.
Looking ahead, our membership remains our priority and as a Chamber community, we will continue our commitment to face rising challenges head-on, advocating for the North Highland business community.
We are continually grateful for the support of our membership as we close off another Annual Review and you can rest assured, we will not rest on our laurels, despite the challenges we all face.
We are a resilient business community and as our strapline says we are stronger together.
Trudy Morris, Chief Executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce.
Working together gives voice to our region.
Reflecting on the past 12 months, it is clear we have experienced an extremely challenging and increasingly harsh business environment. The damaging legacy of the pandemic, coupled with the cost-of-living crisis, spiralling interest rates, material, labour and energy costs, alongside the increased cost of debt, mean many businesses are fighting to stand still amid significant and ongoing economic uncertainty.
Resilience is again the reigning theme when we look at how our members have dealt with the multitude of challenges we have encountered in this past year, a testament indeed to the extraordinary dedication, ingenuity, and resourcefulness of our business community. We have learnt that we are stronger when we work together and that’s particularly important for a business membership and economic landscape as diverse as our own.
Centred at the heart of the North Highland business community, Caithness Chamber of Commerce is here to support businesses at all stages of their journey.
It had been a busy year during 2022/23 for the Caithness Chamber, we were delighted that our membership continued to grow, and we now represent and support over 226 businesses across all sizes and sectors.
In August 2022 we were delighted to welcome two new Diamond Premier Partners, West of Orkney Windfarm and Pentland Floating Offshore Wind Farm. We have been working closely with each over this past year to forge early supply chain engagement to help maximise opportunities locally and prepare for these transformational projects which will inform investment in our future skills, economy and infrastructure.
We added to our exemplary fund management portfolio with the appointment of the Chamber as Fund Administrator for the Caithness and North Sutherland Fund (CNSF). Contracts like this help to sustain the Chamber and allow us to deliver more for the business community.
Entrepreneurship and business support were also at the forefront of our activities. I was delighted to support Thurso High School Young Enterprise Team “Social-Eyes” whose creativity and innovation secured them a spot in the UK Finals with their scavenger hunt bingo game.
We also continued to deliver a diverse portfolio of support to businesses through our business support and mentoring programme funded by Dounreay, advising on topics such as funding applications, marketing and tendering. It was encouraging and positive to see businesses invest in apprenticeships during the year with the support of the Caithness Business Fund. A significant commitment to invest in the future and the next generation. As we moved into a new financial year in June, we have seen this trend continue.
Lobbying and campaigning remain a key aspect of the Chamber, being the ‘Voice’ of business in the reported year was no different.
Connectivity is a major factor in securing economic growth, attracting new opportunities, and employment and sustaining flourishing communities for our region and future generations.
With no proposed major investments in our roads or rail infrastructure on the horizon which offer meaningful reduction in journey times in the short to medium term, or alternative solutions which connect our region physically to markets and opportunities, our airport is an essential component to keeping us connected. With funding from government for the PSO from Wick at serious risk, we find ourselves again lobbying and campaigning to secure a vital piece of infrastructure.
However, despite the challenges, it has been a rewarding year. It has been a great privilege to work alongside our members to ensure the voice of the North Highland business community is heard and I look forward to continuing to work on behalf of our members.
Read the Caithness Chamber Annual Review 2022 / 23
The best of Scottish business was celebrated at a reception at Edinburgh Castle last night.
Attended by over 100 senior business leaders, the event showcased the immense contributions made by the Scottish Chambers of Commerce network in supporting businesses to grow and invest in local communities and highlighted Scotland’s place on the world stage in securing net zero opportunities and expanding international prospects.
First Minister Humza Yousaf praised the work of the network and said collaboration between business and government will boost investment, exports and entrepreneurship.
“The Scottish Government I lead is absolutely committed to unleashing the country’s enormous economic potential. We are using the powers at our disposal to contribute to boosting international investment and unlocking the wealth of investment opportunities we have in Scotland – measures such issuing our first ever bond to finance key infrastructure support that ambition.
“Scottish Chambers of Commerce and its wider network plays an important contribution to seizing Scotland’s economic and investment opportunities, particularly through the support it offers to local businesses and helping promote the significant exporting opportunities many businesses across Scotland have.
“I look forward to continuing to engage with the many Scottish businesses which are investing and innovating in Scotland, as well as supporting our commitment to an economy that is fair, green and growing.”
Stephen Leckie, President of Scottish Chambers of Commerce said:
“I was delighted to welcome businesses from every part of Scotland to the Scottish Business Reception at Edinburgh Castle. From the cities to the Highlands and a wide cross-sector of companies from energy, manufacturing, tourism, retail, finance, space, education and more, the event was a great celebration of Scotland’s business community.
“From expanding our international trade and exporting opportunities and accelerating our solutions to reaching net zero, the Chamber Network in Scotland and across the world are leading from the front and we look forward to collaborating with the Scottish Government to achieve our shared ambitions.”
Ian Kinnaird, Drax’s Scottish Assets Director, said:
“This event showcased the breadth and depth of talent that exists in Scotland’s business community, and Drax was very proud to support it.
“Scotland has all the right attributes to become a global leader in renewable energy and with the right government support, we can continue to harness the power of wind and water to deliver a sustainable future for our environment and our communities.
“That’s why at Drax we are progressing plans to invest more than £500 million in the UK’s first new pumped storage hydro plant in a generation at our existing Cruachan facility, near Oban. It will not only make our power grid greener and more secure, but it will provide a huge boost to the local economy.”
We were delighted to once again celebrate the Highland Business Awards, organised by Inverness Chamber of Commerce.
Hundreds of guests gather in the Kingsmill Hotel, Inverness to celebrate and hear incredibly inspiring stories from businesses across the Highland Region.
Caithness Chamber of Commerce CEO Trudy Morris was part of the awards judging panel, and we were proud to sponsor the Award for Resilience, which was awarded to Loch Ness by Jacobite. Operating successfully within the current climate is increasingly challenging, so sponsorship of the Business Award for Resilience is incredibly poignant.
the Award for Resilience, which was awarded to Loch Ness by Jacobite
Among the array of awards, Inverness-based mechanical and renewable business, RI Cruden was crowned Highland Business of the Year and Alasdair Ferguson of Ferguson Transport & Shipping was awarded the prestigious title of Business Leader of the Year.
The full list of Highland Business Awards’ winners 2023:
Highland Home Carers
Loch Ness by Jacobite
Employer of the Year
Young Employee of the Year
Jacques Huysamer – Gael Force Group
Business Leader of the Year
Alasdair Ferguson – Ferguson Transport & Shipping
Highland Business of the Year
Trudy Morris, Chief Executive, Caithness Chamber of Commerce. Leverage your strengths by amplifying your businesses unique selling points.
In the current climate, all aspects of running a business can feel like a risk. The latest Quarterly Economic Indicator published by the Scottish Chambers of Commerce in June, highlights that persistent economic uncertainty is forcing businesses to put investment decisions on hold. Signalling a challenging prospect for medium and long-term growth, and overshadowing performance across the business community.
The ability to respond swiftly to a volatile and complex business environment, with the intention not only to survive but to thrive is a key factor to success when times are tough – but the ever-present challenge remains, how do you stay relevant in a world that is constantly changing?
It can be tempting to experiment with lots of new ideas, products or services in difficult times in the hope that something works. Or on the opposite end of the spectrum feel stuck and overwhelmed by the pressures of uncertainty and the mere fight to keep the lights on.
Experimentation and risk can of course be rewarding, but to maximise potential for success it’s important to know what you stand for, where your strengths lie, and of course, where you outperform competitors.
Separating your business from the pack is a key factor for success, but how do you ensure your business stands out from the crowd?
My advice is to hone in on your bespoke selling points, your core ethos and what makes your business unique. Every business has an individual story that sets it apart. Use this to leverage your strengths and amplify your authentic business voice; emphasising your vision, values, and journey to create a connection with customers that resonates beyond transaction. A compelling narrative can captivate your audience, drive sales and help build loyalty.
In the North Highlands, we tend towards humility, keeping quiet about our talents and accomplishments – as the saying goes “to hide our light under a bushel”, but our thriving and resilient business community has plenty to celebrate and shout about! In a crowded marketplace, and today’s rapidly changing world – it’s more important than ever that your business stands out, confidence in your story is key to this!
We are delighted to be working with communications specialists, Nicky Marr and Kate Hooper, on a one-day intensive workshop this September which will explore exactly this.
Supporting our members and the local business community to succeed and thrive is a key objective of the Caithness Chamber, and we offer a diverse range of support to businesses in the North Highlands. From events and access to funding, through to our business support programme and continued advocacy work, we offer a unique opportunity to access expert knowledge, advice and network opportunities. Times may be uncertain, but Chamber membership is something you can rely on.
Fiona Levack, Business Development Manager, Caithness Chamber of Commerce. Stand out from the crowd and tell your business story!
Part of my core role at the Caithness Chamber is to develop our programme of events, tailored to the needs of our members. From our annual dinner to our supply chain events and business development and skills-sharing events, there is never a dull moment! Recently I have had the pleasure of working with two Highland businesswomen, each with many decades of experience in media, who have joined forces to develop ‘Tell your business story with confidence’, a workshop for North Highland businesses.
I took the opportunity to talk to them about what their interactive workshop will cover and how will it benefit our business members.
Kate Hooper, who is a former Senior BBC Producer and co-director of Inverness-based StrategyStory, explained: “There are four key elements; Connecting with business audiences, working out your business story, getting your pitch sorted, and Telling your business story with confidence.”
Kate has teamed up with broadcaster, writer, coach, and event host Nicky Marr to create and deliver the session.
Kate said: “We are combining our different experiences in media and communications to bring a unique day which gives business leaders ‘time out’ from the day-to-day running of their businesses, to focus on how they reach and convince potential clients, customers, and stakeholders of the merits of doing business with them.
“We get it. You’re already working more than full time on your business, so there’s little time to lift your head and think, strategically, about how to reach new audiences.”
“This day will give a business a full day to think about their business story and focus on how they will use that story to reach new customers, attract new markets, and ultimately boost the bottom line.”
Nicky added: “Working out how to communicate clearly and concisely what a business does, and the impact it can have on others, is an entirely different set of skills from what a business might usually do. Taking a day out to think through their approach and story could be the best investment a business could make this year”
Delegates will leave with a beautifully crafted business pitch and new-found confidence and presentation skills, which they can put to immediate use.””
Dr Liz Cameron CBE, Chief Executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce calls for extension of the Wick-Aberdeen PSO, during keynote address during the 49th Caithness Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner.
In the speech to Caithness Chamber of Commerce members and the North Highland business community, Dr Liz Cameron CBE, called for:
- An extension of the Wick-Aberdeen Public Service Obligation (PSO) to provide certainty of connectivity for businesses and residents of the North Highlands.
- The business community, public sector, and others, to get round the table to agree on a minimum of 10 years support to develop and build up this commercial asset for the long-term.
- Government to ensure that equality and fairness are enshrined in major policy areas such as connectivity, energy, and housing, recognising the North Highlands as a major powerhouse of Scotland’s economy.
Dr Liz Cameron CBE, Chief Executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce at the 49th Caithness Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner
Commenting, Dr Liz Cameron CBE, said:
“In my visit to Caithness and the North Highlands, l was inspired by the creativity and resilience of local businesses who have consistently felt isolated in more ways than one in recent years. Threats to connectivity, housing shortages, failure to make full use of its vast economic potential, are all concerns voiced by businesses in the region.
“It is clear that these businesses deserve leadership and partnership which ensures that the diverse economy, and future of their communities continue to attract, retain and build on fantastic enterprises and investment. We call upon the key players to get around the table and make it happen. This part of the world is ready to be a central powerhouse for many future industries, but it needs action taken now to ensure that it won’t be left behind with no repeat of the mistakes of the past.”
The lifeline air service between Wick John O’Groats and Aberdeen airports is operated under a Public Service Obligation (PSO) between The Highland Council and Eastern Airways. The return of scheduled air services culminated on April 11 2022, with the first flight to Aberdeen leaving Wick Airport since March 2020.
Caithness Chamber of Commerce, with funding from Dounreay, developed the original business case for the PSO from Wick John O’Groats Airport, and alongside key stakeholders has continued to play a pivotal role in the partnership efforts to safeguard, develop and grow the service.
Grave concerns have been raised following indication from Transport Scotland to stakeholders that commitment made for the final year of financial support for the service, until April 2026, will now need to be re-justified beyond the previously agreed stipulation of increase in passenger numbers.
Providing access to vital business, leisure and healthcare opportunities, the service is predicted to carry over 11,000 passengers during the 2023/24 funding period, forecasting a forecasting a rise of between 20 and 25% on 2022/23 figures.
Dr Liz Cameron CBE, Chief Executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce with Drew Murray of Far North Aviation at Wick Airport.
Trudy Morris, Chief Executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce, said:
“Air connectivity is vital to businesses and communities across the North Highlands and it remains clear that this is an essential component in the overall transport connectivity to and from the region.
Connectivity is a major factor in securing economic growth, attracting new opportunities, employment and sustaining flourishing communities for our region, and indeed imperative for retaining our future generations.
Our region is one of the most diverse economies in Scotland and we deserve both the equity and the stability to be able to maximise and build upon the opportunities presented to us. Air connectivity is crucial to this, the PSO must reflect confidence in the long-term vision of our region.”
During her visit to Caithness, Dr Liz Cameron CBE met with Drew Murray of Far North Aviation, which has provided aircraft handling services at Wick John O’Groats Airport since 1991 including refuelling for the significant levels of ferry flights which layover at the airport.
Liz also spent time with joint managing directors Gavin and Scott Bremner of Ashley Ann at the state-of-the-art kitchen manufacturing facility and trade showroom in Wick. A major local employer with an overall workforce of over 200 staff, Ashley Ann’s bespoke designer kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms are exported across the UK through its nine retail showrooms, independent and kitchen retailers and directly to property developers and house builders.
Dr Liz Cameron CBE, Chief Executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce with joint managing directors Gavin and Scott Bremner of Ashley Ann, at the new trade showroom in Wick.
CC Chocolatier of Bower and North Point Distillery in Thurso win awards at the Caithness Chamber of Commerce 49th Annual Dinner and Awards Ceremony.
On Friday, September 15, 2023, guests gathered for the highly anticipated Caithness Chamber of Commerce 49th Annual Dinner and Awards Ceremony, held in the Norseman Hotel, Wick. This event holds a special place on the local business calendar, consistently drawing the region’s most influential business personalities every year.
An inspirational keynote address was given by Dr. Liz Cameron CBE, Director & Chief Executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce and highly regarded as one of the most influential, informed and authentic business leaders within Scotland’s business community. In her speech Liz commended the invaluable work and commitment of the Caithness Chamber and its members, acknowledging the significant contribution made to Scotland’s voice for business at national and international level. The speech went on to acknowledge the North Highlands as a major powerhouse of Scotland’s transition to renewable energy and celebrated its diverse economy showcasing entrepreneurial excellence, in food, drink, manufacturing, engineering, space technologies and tourism.
Dr Liz Cameron CBE, Chief Executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce at the 49th Caithness Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner
It has been an incredibly turbulent year for businesses across the North Highlands, the dinner brought a welcome chance to connect, build relationships and celebrate the strength and resilience of the diverse North Highland business community.
Guests were treated to a surprise performance by the Singers Secreto’s singing waiters, who burst into the event and got everyone up on their feet to lively renditions of ‘500 Miles’, ‘Sweet Caroline’, ‘New York, New York’ and more.
The annual awards were introduced by longstanding patron of the Caithness Chamber, Rt. Hon. The Viscount Thurso, Lord Lieutenant for Caithness.
Winner of the Young Business Award in the Micro category, sponsored by West of Orkney Windfarm, was awarded to CC Chocolatier, founded in 2019 by Mandy Boydell, a former head chef at the Castle of Mey. The Bower-based business offers personalised chocolates, handmade gifts, and celebration cakes alongside signature chocolate-making and luxury afternoon tea experiences.
The young business was recognised for the quality and craftsmanship of its handmade products, using the finest of homemade and locally sourced ingredients to ensure the freshest and most authentic flavour and its unwavering commitment to excellence and continuous learning.
North Point Distillery was awarded the Young Business Winner in the SME category, sponsored by Pentland Floating Offshore Wind Farm. Established in 2020 by business partners Struan Mackie and Alex MacDonald, trading began on the 1st of October 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with one still, three members of staff and three products; a Cask Aged Rum, Spiced Rum and London Dry Gin.
From its base in Forss Business and Energy Park, the growing business has more than quadrupled production since 2020, with three stills registered, and a further still on the way. With over 32 awards to date, the business is going from strength to strength, the ambitious young distillery and its products have been internationally recognised for excellence in quality, design and sustainability. To date, North Point Distillery has secured over half a million pounds of inward investment into the Far North of Scotland, creating fourteen jobs within the first three years of trading and a commitment to adding new roles through apprenticeship and graduate programmes.
A huge thank you for generous contribution of the events sponsors, West of Orkney Windfarm, M2 Procurement & Commercial Services, Pentland Floating Offshore Wind Farm, Jacobs, JGC Engineering & Technical Services Ltd, Dounreay, The Caithness Collection and The Highland Council PSO.