Rural firms need ‘urgent’ help after 60% halt all activity, study finds

Rural businesses and the communities that rely on them are in “urgent” need of a strategic approach to support, already suffering “potentially irreparable damage” because of Covid-19, according to a new report.

The sector adds £37bn a year to the Scottish economy. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.

Perthshire-based rural enterprise support organisation GrowBiz undertook a survey last month looking at the impact that the pandemic is having on rural businesses, the support packages business-owners have been able to access, and what help they need to survive and return to trading when lockdown measures start being lifted.

The study of about 250 such companies discovered that more than 60 per cent have entirely halted all business activity, with only 8 per cent reporting that they are operating as usual.

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Feedback from respondents included one business’ trade having fallen by about 80 per cent, another saying all bookings for 2020 are cancelled, and one business having virtually ground to a halt, with it only a matter of time before it stops completely.

GrowBiz chief executive Jackie Brierton. Picture: Graham Clark.

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Coronavirus: Scotland’s rural firms to suffer 'disproportionate' Covid-19 impact

GrowBiz has previously voiced concerns over the disproportionate impact the Covid-19 outbreak will have on Scotland’s rural businesses.

It said that with nearly a quarter of adults in rural Scotland being self-employed (more than twice the rate of urban areas) and challenges such as inconsistent broadband coverage, poor transport links and greater distances to food supplies and health services, such firms and their communities are under intense pressure.

The organisation’s chief executive Jackie Brierton said: “The spread of Covid-19 presents enormous challenges for businesses across Scotland and especially for small and micro-businesses in rural Scotland.”

She noted that the rural business sector boosts Scotland’s economy by £37 billion annually, “and our survey shows the devastating and potentially irreparable damage that has been done over the past few weeks of the pandemic and the urgent need for a strategic approach to supporting rural businesses and the communities which rely on them so heavily”.

GrowBiz also found that fewer than 8 per cent of respondents were willing to apply for business loans in the current uncertain circumstances. Around a third are hoping to access HMRC’s Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, “reflecting the large percentage of self employed workers in rural areas”.

GrowBiz is providing telephone and online peer support sessions for any rural businesses seeking support, and is collaborating with other organisations to ensure Scotland’s rural economy survives and recovers from the current crisis.

The organisation supports anyone starting or growing a business in rural Scotland. Its financial backers include Perth and Kinross Council and Scottish Enterprise, and since October 2016, it has helped more than 1,500 rural firms.

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