Fed members in rural Scotland are calling on the Scottish government to address their specific needs as they struggle with a “perfect storm” of increased costs.
The comments followed a survey carried out by rural enterprise organisation GrowBiz, which found 58% of 250 rural and island businesses said increased costs were having a major impact on their ability to operate.
Jackie Brierton, chief executive of GrowBiz, said: “While all businesses are facing enormous pressures, for rural and island businesses, these pressures are exacerbated by challenges including inconsistent broadband coverage, poor transport links and greater distances to food supplies.”
She added that while the recent cap on energy costs by the UK government was welcome, it remains unclear whether the cost of heating oil is included. “Oil has doubled in price since early 2021, and with no mains gas in many areas of rural Scotland, this is a major contributor to the increasingly unviable costs,” she said.
“When you add huge increases in supplier costs, and a decrease in orders and sales, much of the rural economy is facing a devastating future.”
Tony Buckley, owner of Buckley’s Newsagents in Lossiemouth, Moray, told Better Retailing he would also like to see business rates abolished on ATMs.
Last year, following a Supreme Court ruling, rates were abolished in England and Wales, however they still apply to Scotland.
“We had five banks, now we have none. I run one of three ATMs, but because it is outward-facing, I have to pay additional business rates. This must be urgently addressed,” he said.
He added that despite being a mainland business, he also faced high delivery costs and had problems attracting staff.
“My message to the Scottish government is use us or lose us. I’m already reducing my shop hours because I can’t attract staff and I’m unable to take on all the work myself,” he said.
Brierton recently highlighted that the Scottish government’s 10-year retail strategy, unveiled in March, had no separate provision for rural businesses.
However, Fed deputy vice president Mo Razzaq, who sits on the strategy group, said he believes that rural concerns will be fleshed out over time.
“Rural concerns are not just for the Highlands and islands. There are rural businesses in Lanarkshire and Ayrshire, and issues such as business rates must be looked at urgently,” he said.
The Scottish government said: “The implementation of our delivery plans for the strategy will take full account of regional circumstances, especially in rural and island areas, which face particular challenges.”