Highlands and Islands business survey reveals mood

Some of the results from the recently-published survey by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

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More than half of businesses in the Highlands and Islands have said their confidence has decreased, according to the results of the latest  survey which have been published recently.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) surveyed a total of 1,000 businesses across the region and 56 per cent told them confidence had fallen. However, the results published in March relate to a survey carried out in February.

That was before recent government announcements about Scotland’s routes and dates out of lockdown which is likely to have seen confidence rise since then with non-essential retail to reopen from Monday, April 5, and travel restrictions across Scotland lifted from April 26.

Despite the pessimism of February, 80 per cent still believed they would be viable in six months, although 15 per cent told the survey they might not be.

The survey found that even in February, optimism was higher among businesses than it was in June and July last year when the economy was reopened after the first lockdown.

At that time, business confidence was at the lowest ever level recorded in the survey, of which there have been 18 over six years.

Key findings from the latest poll show that 70 per cent of those responding to the survey had continued to trade ‘without pause’ since the Highlands and Islands went into lockdown restrictions on Boxing Day 2020.

Just over a quarter – 26 per cent – had temporarily closed or paused trading.

Tourism businesses were more likely to have shut down, and businesses in food and drink and financial and business services sectors were more likely to continue trading.

HIE said the findings showed that while economic confidence remained low it still remains higher than in previous surveys.

It also shows that Covid and future lockdowns are seen by businesses as the ‘main risk’ facing them in the next six months.

Martin Johnson, HIE’s director of strategy and regional economy, said: ‘We are extremely grateful to all those who have taken part in the survey.

‘Once again, they have provided some really valuable feedback and detailed insights into the challenges and opportunities facing businesses in the region.

‘We already know that the Highlands and Islands has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and that Brexit is also likely to have a bigger impact on the region than many other parts of the UK.

‘The feedback received through the business panel surveys helps to inform decisions on how support should be tailored to best meet the region’s needs and maximise our opportunities.’

Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions was identified most frequently as the greatest risk facing businesses in the next six months and was mentioned by 77 per cent.

This was followed by Brexit mentioned by 43 per cent and Scotland’s relationship with
the rest of the UK which was named by 37 per cent, according to the survey.