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McArthur calls for greater support for food and drink sector

Liam McArthur MSP

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur has urged the Scottish Government to make available targeted support to help businesses in the food and drink sector to upscale their operations.

During Portfolio Questions, today, Thursday, Mr McArthur highlighted that the pandemic has forced many businesses in Orkney’s food and drink sector to change how they operate, including by increasing their digital reach and capabilities.

He therefore called for support to help businesses to take advantage of these online opportunities, including through help to improve packaging, distribution and other aspects of their operations.

In response, cabinet secretary for rural economy Fergus Ewing acknowledged the importance of the points being raised by Mr McArthur and agreed to reconsider what more the Scottish Government could do to help businesses in these areas.  However, he noted that these efforts will now be more difficult as a result of Brexit.

Speaking afterwards, Mr McArthur said: “With COVID significantly changing people’s lifestyles, the food and drink industry has had to move quickly to respond to changing needs and market opportunities.  While larger businesses often have the resources to adapt, for smaller producers the challenges can be significant.

“Orkney has a thriving food and drink sector with many excellent local businesses.  Some already have established national and international networks, but others are having to adjust their business models to deal with the impact of COVID. It’s important they don’t get left behind and are given every chance of competing in fast-moving online markets.

“Feedback from local businesses in Orkney suggests more needs to be done to provide help in the short term. The DigitalBoost fund, offering help with online marketing, is a welcome initiative and hopefully it will reopen to applications soon. Help is also needed, though, to allow businesses to improve packing and develop distribution channels.

“I’m pleased that Mr Ewing recognised these points and offered to give them further consideration. Time is of the essence, however, and the need made all the greater by the impact of Brexit.

“I will be following this up with the cabinet secretary to see what more might be done to support Orkney’s world class food and drink sector.”