Here's what our CEO Jackie Brierton has to say on looking forward to working in rural Perthshire in 2019, and what the rural economy needs to focus on in the coming year, and beyond.
"The last 12 months have been important for Scotland’s rural economy. Despite the uncertainty caused by Brexit, we know better than ever the true value of the contribution made by rural enterprises to Scotland’s wealth. In a report released by the Scottish Government earlier in 2018, the rural economy was shown to contribute more than £36 billion to Scotland’s GVA – which is approaching the economies of Glasgow and Edinburgh combined.
And this is likely to be understating the true figure as it excludes the turnovers of tens of thousands of micro-enterprises operating across rural Scotland which are below the VAT threshold.
At a local level in rural Perth and Kinross, we’ve seen growth across all sectors, with creative services, care and wellbeing, adventure tourism and niche manufacturing all featuring in businesses supported by GrowBiz.
The Rural Perth and Kinross LEADER programme has played a key role in supporting and funding enterprises, diversification, young people and rural communities in 2018, with its £3m allocation almost fully expended.
The potential for growth and innovation in rural areas is significant, particularly with improvements to digital connectivity and a growth in entrepreneurial thinking and ideas.
The 25-strong Local Action Group (LAG) which administers the LEADER programme has established a Rural Economy sub-group to develop a plan for the future, working in partnership with Perth and Kinross Council, the Perth City Development Board and other key agencies and organisations to ensure that Perthshire’s rural economy continues to be supported and developed.
A key target for the Rural Economy group will be the Tay Cities Deal and ensuring that a proportionate investment is made in the rural areas covered by the deal. With more than 60% of the populations of the region living outwith the cities of Perth and Dundee, this will be essential to ensure the economic potential and inclusive growth priority is realised for rural businesses and communities.
The work done by the National Council of Rural Advisers in 2018 demonstrated the rich diversity of Scotland’s rural economy and at GrowBiz, we support rural entrepreneurs at all stages of their business journey, helping them to learn more about starting, growing and developing their ventures.
We recognise that each business is different, with different goals and objectives, and that it can’t be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.
Digital connectivity – or a lack of – can have a major impact on business, whether it is the country’s biggest suppliers of festive lights or a small producer selling online, an eco-friendly luxury hostel or an adventure activity provider.
With that in mind, in 2019 we will be providing learning sessions and support to help enterprises improve their digital skills, working towards HMRC’s Making Tax Digital objectives for example, as well as looking at platforms for local businesses to reach wider markets.
2018 was the busiest year yet for GrowBiz. We held 120 learning sessions and network meetings throughout rural Perthshire and engaged with hundreds of clients, many of them for the first time. Throughout the year, more than 1500 people have attended our events. We worked right across Perthshire, setting up peer support groups and networks in Strathearn and Kinross-shire as well as building on our existing well-established connections in east and Highland Perthshire.
Our award-winning business mentoring programme, which is delivered through LEADER funding for the Enterprising Rural Perthshire project and currently has over 70 participants, became the first in Scotland to achieve the Scottish Mentoring Network Quality Standard. And our Creative Care project, which aims to support people, in particular older people and those with disabilities and health problems, to lead the life they want in their local community by offering an ‘enterprising response’ to the provision of care, support and wellbeing was shortlisted in the Rural Innovators Awards.
Our approach to enterprise support is simple but effective. We identify what businesses want and then secure the services required to meet that need."