The well attended 2nd Orkney Business Festival has drawn to a close.
On Wednesday night a discussion took place on the Challenges and Opportunities faced by Orkney businesses today. Disappointingly considering the number of extremely successful women entrepreneurs and business owners in Orkney it was an all male panel.
Chairing the discussion was David Richardson from the Federation of Small Businesses.
The FSB has done a lot of research on behalf of their members in order to provide more accurate information which can be used, not just by business, but also by policy makers and government. Most recently they had a 39% response from Orkney businesses to their consultation on the Islands Bill.
The Orkney News has published several articles about the Islands Bill and will continue to keep readers updated and informed about it.
The FSB research has evidenced that 91% of Orkney businesses feel that the islands are a good place to be located with only a small number who would consider relocation.
The geography was seen as “a challenge but also an opportunity” through locally buying of services and the strong unique identity of Orkney. But also its diversity with 17 inhabited islands .
The Tourism industry featured strongly in the discussion with some on the panel and in the audience expressing concern at the introduction of Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) which has been campaigned for in Orkney for years and the reduction of ferry fares. They felt that it in conjunction with the cruise ship sector, would put too much of a strain on Orkney’s infrastructure and the holiday experience.
David Richardson of FSB, however, felt that rather than see the difficulties Orkney should be looking at the opportunities presented by a rise in visitor numbers and adapt to meet the needs:- “A quality experience, quality accommodation…..all that must tie in”.
The problems of encouraging young families to the islands and retaining them was raised including the lack of affordable accommodation. This is an issue not only for young people living in Orkney but for those wishing to come here to study.
Digital connectivity was considered to be essential for businesses to flourish and operate to their full potential and this continues to be an issue throughout the islands.
The discussion was interesting but one Orkney business woman did express to The Orkney News that she felt it had been more negative than she had expected. There were certainly mixed messages from it with maybe too much time looking at the problems and not how to address challenges in a positive way and gain the advantage.
Notably absent from the discussion was any analysis of the impacts on business and the local economy of the Islands Bill and of having an Islands Minster. And perhaps even more concerning was no discussion of Brexit and the loss of protected brand status for Orkney beef and lamb with the closure of the abattoir. Both these issues will have significant positive and negative effects on business in Orkney and the wider local economy.
As panel member Dr Bill Ross Principal of UHI, Orkney said:
“Orkney has all the elements of a world within a small island.”
For the team at The Orkney News we have certainly embraced that idea and for our business being in Orkney is filled with opportunities.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame