Highland business leader Stewart Graham

A CONCERTED change of behaviour in support of development and a diverse growing economy is required to avoid rural areas in Scotland becoming largely economically inactive, according to Highland business leader Stewart Graham.

In a passionately worded article released today, the founder and managing director of marine equipment manufacturer Gael Force Group aims to create constructive and open discussion among all stakeholders on the future of Scotland’s rural economic development.

In the article he says, “Like the Highland Clearances, the welfare of the local people who work the land and the sea is being considered as secondary to the narrow interests of a minority, often not rooted in the area, who care not for the economic wellbeing of other local people We need to put people, their livelihoods and their wellbeing first.”

Citing the example of a recent decision to refuse planning for an Organic Sea Harvest fish farm at Balmaqueen near Skye, despite being recommended for approval, he criticises the “narrowness in consideration and a failure of process and joined up thinking”.

The development was set to create nine new direct jobs in Skye, and support around twenty jobs at Gael Force.  Despite its successes in combatting the effects of Covid, Gael Force has since been forced to make a significant number of redundancies directly relating to the consequential cancellation of orders based on the decision to refuse planning.

He goes on to say, “You simply cannot have development without some impact, but neither can you have social progression without economic development… we have become anti-development, anti-business in this country, yet we want all the benefits that depend on a strong, successful and growing economy”.

Graham asks, “How can we call for building back our economy and protecting jobs, yet fail to support compliant job creating planning applications?”

He encourages all rural stakeholders including Government at local and national level “not only to support development, but make sure that they actively seek out and promote economic development opportunities within their areas of responsibility as a minimum.”  He adds, “There needs to be some maturity in decision making and joined up thinking in policy and action”.

“If we do not see a change of behaviour in the support of development and growing the economy by all of us, we will be a failing nation, with rural areas becoming very largely inactive economically”.