Highland exporters want single market access

Carroll Buxton

About 65% of exporting companies in Scotland’s Highlands and Islands believe access to the European single market is important for their businesses, according to a survey of more than 1,000 firms.

The survey showed that 55% of tourism businesses and 57% of businesses with 25 or more employees believe free movement of people across the EU is also important.

The views were among the latest findings of the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) Business Panel survey.

A total of 1,004 businesses throughout the region took part in the survey between September 29 and November 3.

The survey showed that while overall confidence in Scotland’s economy remained “low,” about 82% of respondents reported good or steady performance in their own business over the past 12 months and 89% anticipated growth or stability in the next two years.

About 36% of companies that export from the region reported an increase in exports in the past six months.

Larger companies surveyed expressed concern over potentially shrinking labour markets following the UK’s departure from the EU.

About 91% of non-UK EU nationals employed in the region are permanent staff. Larger firms and companies in the tourism sector are more likely to be employers of this group.

Carroll Buxton, HIE’s director of regional development, said: “The feedback that businesses across the region have been performing well and are optimistic about the future is good news.

“Clearly there are uncertainties and concerns over what lies ahead but the evidence suggests continuing resilience in the business community.

“This will be linked to the diversity of small to medium sized companies and the strength of our growth sectors, such as tourism, food and drink and life sciences.

“We look forward to continuing our work in supporting these growth businesses and sectors and maintaining that resilience, which will be crucial as we move forward.”