Plans are under way for the relaunch of a Chamber of Commerce for the Outer Hebrides, almost a decade after the demise of the previous one.
The aim is to model it on mainland examples like Caithness Chamber of Commerce which also serves a widely dispersed area with a low density of population which, like the Outer Hebrides, totals around 26,000.
Caithness Chamber of Commerce was first established in the 1970s by a group of local businesspeople. In late 2008 a new company limited by guarantee was formed and, with initial funding from Highlands and Islands Enterprise of £150,000, the Caithness Chamber of Commerce was relaunched with a full-time Chief Executive and a new structure. Further staff were recruited with a three-year £120,000 funding award from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority dealing the Dounreay plant. It now has a total staff of eight.
The Caithness Chamber aims to support every type of business, from sole traders and small businesses to large corporate companies. Members are drawn from a vast range of industry sectors including energy, tourism, retail, transport, food and drink and manufacturing. It has developed a valuable portfolio of added value services to boost the business success of members.
It also stages a number of events throughout the year to facilitate the vital interaction between business owners and managers. The annual Caithness Chamber of Commerce dinner is the highlight of the year at which past keynote speakers have included such key business leaders as Sir Tom Farmer and politicians including the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Secretary of State for Scotland.
The driving force behind the Outer Hebrides Chamber plan is Lynne Maciver, of Maciver Project Services, a Programme and Project Manager who works with businesses of all sizes delivering business changeand technology solutions. Amongst other activities, Lynne is also vice-chair of the board of An Lanntair arts centre.
The Outer Hebrides project is seeking initial funding from HIE which is under way at present and is looking ahead to developing contacts throughout the business community of the islands.
Lynne says the aim of developing a Chamber of Commerce again is to give the business community a voice. “Over the intervening years (since the last Chamber) we have had an incredibly difficult economic environment. We were all very focussed on near-sight goals.” The political and economic climate has been very uncertain since then. “The economic stability of the Islands is key to reversing depopulation and taking a long-term view of the health of the Islands.”
But right now the business community does not have a voice in these developments. “This chamber could provide the structure to enable a “we” of the business community to exist” when dealing with developments such as high-speed digital communications. Chambers are a tried and tested concept – going back more than a century. The Inverness Chamber of Commerce is celebrating its 125thanniversary, Lynne said.
She also pointed to the growing number of “exports” – abroad, to England and to the mainland – from all sorts of Island businesses, from candles and bakery products to salmon and Harris Tweed. “If the business community works together, and promotes together and takes stuff off the Islands together, we are increasing our market and increasing the Island GDP and more GDP means more jobs which would all be a positive cycle.”