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Business Comment by BID Manager in Inverness Courier

Business Comment

By Mike Smith, Manager, Inverness Business Improvement District

I was very struck last week by a comment made at an Inverness Chamber of Commerce talk by Michael Moore, the secretary of state for Scotland, regarding the importance of business being successful.

The Liberal Democrat coalition government minister addressed his business audience with a comment: “If you weren’t there and if you aren’t successful, we couldn’t tax you and none of us politicians could argue about how to use the monies we take in tax from you.”

I am not sure if this quote is something that the secretary of state has used regularly in the past or whether it was the spin doctor’s sound bite in response to the leading Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie’s criticism the previous weekend on the lack of a government growth policy.

Either way, Mr Moore’s statement that wealth creation has to be recognised as underpinning everything is so true.

Yes, we all want a fairer society, social inclusion with adequate provision for the old, the young and the vulnerable. But without businesses being profitable neither our councils or nationally our MPs and MSPs are going to have the luxury of making those decisions.

Of course, the Highlands are in a unique position with our high level of public sector jobs and the danger is that we are really only just beginning to feel the effect of the reduction of jobs in that sector.

So the economic and political arguments about how to support growth while not deflecting the focus from deficit reduction are critical.

A couple of days later came the Bank of England’s injection of a further £75 billion in quantitative easing (QE) to encourage the banks to release more lending to businesses. This move was immediately welcomed by bodies such as the Federation of Small Businesses, CBI, British Chambers of Commerce, etc.

My discussions with the Inverness city centre businesses brought back to me the sense of realism in Mr Moore’s quote — it’s only when any macro economic change feeds through to individual businesses that trade improves and firms become more confident. “I didn’t get treated any better by the banks when the last £200 billion of QE was invested so why should it filter down to me now?” was the essence of more than one response.

More immediate benefits are sought, such as enforceable credit terms against major companies, the relaxation of competitive tendering regulations for the service sector, a more balanced view on health and safety obligations and changes to employment law. And for areas like Inverness Old Town, freeing up of the retail rental with its knock-on affect on rateable values would give an immediate boost to existing and potential new businesses. How the creation of the yet another Bank Holiday — the Diamond Jubilee in June 2012 — can be reconciled with ”putting business profitability first” I just don’t know.

We are at a time when company costs are increasing and margins are being squeezed but in my experience businesses are innovative, they are resilient and all they ask for is assistance not hindrance to profitability.

To end this comment on an upbeat note it is good to see during these difficult times the positive role that the councillors on the Inverness city committee play in utilising the funds generated by the Inverness Common Good Fund for the benefit of local community.

One only has to look at the range of papers put before yesterday’s committee meeting to see how we all benefit from its far-sighted investment into programmes like the marketing of Inverness, the excellent IOTA creative arts programme, the successful and wide-ranging events organised by the festivals committee and community safety initiatives — all which complement the support given to so many of our local community groups.

These, together with the support for major projects such as The Inverness Courier-backed Archie Foundation Appeal for the Children’s Ward at Raigmore and the Highlanders Museum at Fort George, show how much thanks must be given to those who, over so many years, have helped develop the resource that is the Inverness Common Good Fund.

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