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Business Comment in Inverness Courier by BID Vice-Chair Jackie Cuddy

As the festive season comes to a close it is normal for one to both reflect on the past year and feel apprehensive about the new. Some fall out was predicted in the retail sector as the new quarters rents became due.  It would appear that for the first two Hawkins Bazaar and La Senza. this is happening sooner rather than later.  It is the people on the ground that I feel concern for who find themselves in the unfortunate position of becoming unemployed.  Christmas is not an easy time for retail staff.  Once the store closes on Christmas Eve their work begins again preparing for the Boxing Day sales. Then on Boxing Day their day can start as early as 5am preparing to open the store for the sales.  They have families they leave at home and for some now they will have the added concern of how they will provide for these families.

Distribution logistics and costs are still something that many  retailers feel act as a barrier to opening a store in Inverness. This is something that has bearing on all businesses in the Highlands and these businesses need to work together on to address.  Certainly when national companies go into administration and some stores are bought out, the servicing costs involved with an Inverness store can often be the deciding factor  as to whether it remains open or closes.

Reflecting on last year Inverness continued to attract some new major retailers to the area.  Stormfront the apple reseller has received a very warm welcome from customers.  In December Mamas and Papas opened their first store in Inverness.  Indeed Eastgate Centre ended the year 98% let.  The highest since Phase 2 opened in 2003. 

The development of the Old Safeway site has bought Iceland, Dreams and Home Bargains into the City Centre.  Nearby Strothers Lane has seen lettings increase with  Maya, the Belgium Chocolatier joining Ness Soaps and Artisans Café.

In the Old Town. Hung Gallery opened in Lombard Street in May offering a welcome outlet for the many talented local artists and craft makers. Another independent Fayre Ness a new gift shop also opened it’s doors in the same area in the later part of the year.  This kind of uniqueness strengthens the offer of the City centre particularly in attracting visitors. 

It will be a tough year for many businesses in the Highlands.  There will be a need to reinvent the way we do business, be innovative, think outside of the box and play on our unique selling points.

The  McDonalds local franchisee and  McDonalds the company  have jointly put major investment into  their City Centre restaurant because they recognise we will come out of recession and when we do they want to be ready.

The eagerly awaited Mary Portas report has five key recommendations on how we can start to do this in City Centres:
• Get the basics right to allow businesses to flourish by looking at how the business rates system could better support small businesses and independents.
• Level the playing field by ensuring a strong town centre first approach in planning.
• Define Landlords’ roles and responsibilities by looking at disincentives for Landlords leaving properties vacant.
• Give communities greater say by encouraging  innovative community uses of empty High Street spaces.
• Get City Centres running like businesses by strengthening the management of High Streets and  (interestingly) developing the Business Improvement District model.

There is already a strong Tourism market and events and festivals programme in place for us to expand on.. The Highlands is a fantastic place to live and work where everyone receives a warm welcome this has to be a strong unique selling point. 

This is shown time and again by the generosity of all to local charitable causes.  2011 was no different. It was the year when the Archie Foundation Appeal was launched to raise funds for a new children’s ward at Raigmore.  Before the end of the first year of the 2 year project, the Appeal had already raised almost £600k towards its target of one million pounds. The Order of St John Giving Tree at Eastgate distributed over 2,000 presents to children over the festive period that were donated by the public.   There were many other charities who gained from peoples generosities over the festive period and throughout the year.  It is good to see that despite the current economic climate the heart of Inverness still beats strongly.

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