Highlands and Islands concerns over Covid and Brexit

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Businesses in the Highlands and Islands that have not yet prepared for some of the major changes facing them as a result of Brexit are being encouraged to do so as quickly as possible.

Businesses are being signposted to advice on the Scottish Government’s ‘prepare for Brexit’ website which can be found at www.prepareforbrexit.scot

The call has been made by regional development agency, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

It follows publication in December of its latest business survey of more than 1,000 firms.

It showed that while most are prepared for changes to routes to market, to supply chains and to regulations and standards, around a third were still ‘unprepared’ for impacts relating to intellectual property and customs procedures.

Martin Johnson, director of strategy and regional economy at HIE, said: ‘The fieldwork for this survey was carried out in October, so it’s likely that more preparation work has been done by businesses since then.

‘While we welcome confirmation that most businesses do seem prepared for many aspects of Brexit, it is still very concerning that a sizeable proportion may not be.

‘Responding to the pandemic has understandably hampered the preparation efforts of many firms and we now have Christmas blocking out time before the deadline, but there are still useful steps businesses can take.

‘The Scottish Government’s ‘prepare for Brexit’ website provides valuable information, advice and checklists to help businesses and links to other resources, as does the UK Government’s Brexit transition page.

‘We encourage anyone who has not yet done so to check out these sites and do what they can.’

The October survey found that almost a third (31 per cent) of tourism businesses – one of the hardest hit sectors – were ‘not confident’ about their future.

Confidence in the wider economic outlook had increased slightly since its lowest ever reported level in June – while lockdown was still in place – but still remained very low.

More than two-thirds (69 per cent) reported decreased confidence in Scotland’s economic outlook.

And 62 per cent said they are ‘not confident’ of the economic outlook for the Highlands and Islands.

Firms in the sectors of tourism (80 per cent) and creative industries sectors (67 per cent) were among those more likely to be operating ‘below’ pre-Covid levels.

In terms of political and economic uncertainty, businesses expressed concern about future waves of coronavirus (95 per cent) and the UK’s departure from the EU (75 per cent).

Mr Johnson added: ‘We are extremely grateful to everyone who took part in this survey. Their feedback provides valuable insight into the different pressures and opportunities in the region’s economy, how businesses are responding to these and what types of public sector support would be most useful to them.

‘Clearly 2020 has been an incredibly difficult year. Restrictions around the pandemic and the many changes businesses have had to make to their ways of working are seriously affecting trade, growth and preparations for leaving the EU.

It’s certainly a very different picture than it was a year ago but despite this, we are still seeing some very welcome confidence and self-belief among many firms, and this will be a key strength going forward.’

The next survey is due to take place in February 2021 with the results due some time in spring.