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Rural Scottish business needs to be equipped for constitutional challenges

The Scottish rural economy faces its greatest challenge for generations in the face of Brexit and potential constitutional change.

Speaking at Scottish Land & Estates annual conference in Edinburgh, the organisation's chairman David Johnstone said rural businesses will have to demonstrate an unprecedented creativity to adapt if they are to survive and thrive.

This will mean that businesses that have previously focused solely on primary industries such as forestry or agriculture face the prospect of embracing fundamental change.

Mr Johnstone urged government and rural business to work together 'as never before’ to ensure rural communities and businesses are not left behind in this fast-moving political and economic situation. He added that many rural businesses had already grasped the nettle and diversified to generate new and innovative income streams. However, they continue to face challenges such as rural broadband, transport and a framework in which to do business.

David Johnstone said: “We are living in an era of huge volatility and whatever the outcome of Brexit and the constitutional situation, change is inevitable. Rural businesses themselves will have to lead the way as government cannot do it all.

“We are moving towards a situation where there will be less money available through direct support, whether it be channeled from the European or a domestic source. That will mean increasing the profitability of rural businesses will be key to ensuring that they are robust to withstand the challenges. Where there may still be some funding available, we expect it to be directed differently – and for support to be directed at the provision of public goods. 

“Where the government can assist our rural areas is in providing the infrastructure we need to do business, which unleashes the entrepreneurial potential within the countryside.  Better connectivity, including transport and electronic communications, is key to the success of business change.” 

Lyn Forbes, one of the owners of Loch Ness Shores, an award-winning camping and caravanning site, also explained to conference attendees how they had equipped themselves to face the challenges posed by future change. 

Opened in 2013 in the village of Foyers on the loch’s southeast shore, the area occupied by the business was originally part of a farm. The village was once extremely vibrant, located near an aluminium smelter which at one time employed 500 people.  After the smelter’s closure in 1967, the village went into decline but with a growing awareness that tourism provided the best opportunity for sustainable growth in an area of outstanding beauty, the family decided to diversify agricultural business and, in July 2013, Loch Ness Shores became a reality. Loch Ness Shores now boasts 5-star accreditation from VisitScotland, World Host status and a Gold Green Tourism Award.

Lyn Forbes said: “It had been obvious for a number of years that the farm was too small to be sustainable, so my husband Donald looked for other opportunities within agriculture to supplement his income. However, as rumours spread that the village shop was going to close, we were determined that we must use our assets to help the community, existing and new businesses and also establish a sustainable business for ourselves.

“The time taken to navigate the planning process was a real challenge, and at times it appeared that hurdle after hurdle was being placed in our path. However, our success means we now employ four full time and four part-time staff, with a further six jobs in the summer – most of whom are employed from the local area. 

“We are very confident about the future, but we know we can’t sit on our laurels.  We constantly strive for improvement and perfection, listening to our visitors’ ideas alongside those of our team.  Businesses such as ours need to be making choices now that will serve them well for the next decade and beyond.”

 

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