The Importance of Rural Business
I spent yesterday at the Scottish Land & Estates Spring Conference. It was a really engaging day particularly if you’re interested in Scotland’s rural economy. For the record I am passionately interested in the rural economy both professionally (I work with lots of rural businesses) and personally (I live in the countryside).
I took a number of things away from the event. The following are some comments that particularly resonated:-
- For well run estates diversification isn’t just to do with one-off projects; it’s a way of life. In the 21st Century estates have to be multifaceted businesses. This means that all the discipline and rigour which a well run urban business adopts applies equally to rural businesses. Doing the same old same old just won’t cut the mustard. For advisers, giving the same old same old advice also won’t do.
- Rural businesses are a significant contributor to the Scottish economy particularly in rural areas. Where an estate is successful significant elements of turnover will be spent very locally supporting jobs, incomes, local community and the like. Today saw the launch of the Scottish Land & Estates report on the impact of the estates sector on the Scottish economy. Recommended reading.
- It may not always be viable to do so but if a rural business can s/he would be well advised to keep control of development schemes including renewables. One presentation in particular from an Estate in rural Argyllshire was particularly striking. They had gone down the multi-national developer big wind route and been bombed out at planning. They retrenched and instead went forward with their own much smaller scheme (twelve x 850kw turbines) with the community owning one turbine. The result? A successful scheme, a happy community and a secure future for the local school.
- Quality is key. Doing things to the highest standard you can should always be your aspiration. Caroline Miller of @luxuryhideaway spoke passionately about her vision for agritourism. She also bemoaned the problems that still beset the Scottish tourist offering; the “just enough is enough” and “aye been” attitudes. Of course, that doesn’t just apply to rural businesses; it seems to be a peculiarly British affliction. However, it is accentuated in the rural areas where there may not be another choice.
- The estates community remains vibrant, diverse and committed to Scotland for the long term. The apparent commitment to serious levels of investment is truly encouraging. So is the fact that so many rural businesses see renewable energy as a key part of their future (32% of estates are currently engaged in some shape or form; 49% see their future there).
- Perhaps the one disappointment was the apparent disconnect between the Cabinet Secretary’s rhetoric on the importance of superfast broadband and the timescales for delivery – i.e. don’t expect to see coverage over 85% for another 3 or 4 years. No prizes for guessing where the remaining 15% without coverage will be!
Of course there were plenty of other things said and discussed. And the tweed quotient was high! However, I do just wonder if the messages of quality, excellence and community engagement are finally getting through and it’s time for the rural business to come of age.
As always, comments, compliments or criticisms are welcome on twitter or linked-in