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election

Election candidates urged to support small business manifesto

The new Orkney Islands Council should place economic recovery front and central in its plans for the next few years, at the same time forging ever-closer links with its business community to bring maximum benefit to both local economies and communities.

So says the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), in its manifesto, ‘The Power of Local 2022’, prepared for the Scottish local elections on the May 5.

The pandemic has revealed just how important Orkney Islands Council and local businesses are to each other, the organisation says. FSB believes that May’s election provides a unique opportunity to deepen and strengthen the relationship between all of Scotland’s local authorities and their businesses even further to help the recovery. The federation say that combining the local insights, spending and decision-making powers that both bring to the table can really drive change in these difficult times.

FSB’s Highlands & Islands development manager, David Richardson, said:

“Over the past two years we’ve witnessed countless small businesses step up to the plate to deliver the essential support and services that their communities needed most, and we’ve seen hard-working and dedicated Orkney Islands Council staff deliver a wide range of important grants aimed at keeping many of the businesses hardest hit by the pandemic alive. While no-one was prepared for COVID, the commitment from both sides was obvious, and both were able to think outside the box to overcome major obstacles.

“But that was then. Now, as we emerge from the pandemic – hopefully for the last time – it is vital that the lessons are not forgotten and that the council continues to strengthen its ties with smaller businesses.  For what with COVID debt (485 Orkney businesses took on £16,865,868 of government-backed debt during the crisis), serious staff shortages and rapidly rising costs, small businesses need all the help that they can get

“However, while life remains extremely tough it’s not all bad news, for in 2021 Orkney’s 1,440 registered small businesses (registered for VAT and/or PAYE) had a combined turnover of £422 million and employed around 5,930 people. Add the countless unregistered small businesses and the contribution is far, far greater. But we mustn’t be complacent, for the number of registered small businesses in Orkney actually decreased slightly between 2017 and 2021 – by 25 (-1.7 per cent), as against a 1.3 per cent increase in Scotland as a whole.

“If we want to maintain vibrant, well-balanced and growing populations on all islands we must ensure that they are seen as go-to places to set up and grow businesses, and Orkney Islands Council clearly has a vital role to play.

“Our manifesto points to some simple but powerful measures that the new council can implement to make Orkney even more small-business friendly.

“This includes investing in the local economy by spending even more money with local businesses when procuring goods and services. In 2017/18 Orkney Islands Council spent 40.9 per cent of its procurement budget with local businesses, and this increased to 47.7 per cent the next year. However, it has since slipped to 37.9 per cent and, given that Highland spent 47 per cent in 2020/21 and Shetland 48.7 per cent, it would be good to think that this figure could be improved. After all, every percentage point means more investment in the local economy.

“We are also calling for more to be done to boost town and village centres; for small businesses to be supported on their journeys to Net Zero; for more investment in Business Gateway to help businesses start up and grow; for joined-up online systems for things like licensing and non-domestic rates; and for full impact assessments to be undertaken first before new initiatives like the short-term lets scheme are introduced.

“Let’s hope that come the next election in 2027, we can all look back on the preceding five years with pride. There’s all to play for.”