The latest findings of the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) Business Panel survey have been published.

A total of 1,004 businesses throughout the region took part in the survey between 29 September and 3 November.

While overall confidence in Scotland’s economy remains low, over four fifths (82%) of respondents reported good or steady performance in their own business over the past 12 months, and 89% anticipate growth or stability in the next two years.

Over a third (36%) of companies that export from the region reported an increase in exports in the past six months.
There are varying views from businesses in the Highlands and Islands on the importance of access to the European single market and free movement of people across the European Union. While many do not currently see these as being important to the operation of their business, there is a clear cohort that do.

Most (65%) of exporting companies felt that access to the single market was important. More than half (55%) of tourism businesses and larger businesses (57%) with 25 or more employees felt free movement of people across the EU was important.

Larger companies also expressed concern over potentially shrinking labour markets following the UK’s departure from the EU. The vast majority (91%) of non-UK EU nationals employed in the region are permanent staff. Larger firms and companies in the tourism sector are more likely to be employers of this group.

Carroll Buxton, HIE’s director of regional development, said: “The feedback that businesses across the region have been performing well and are optimistic about the future is good news. Clearly there are uncertainties and concerns over what lies ahead but the evidence suggests continuing resilience in the business community. This will be linked to the diversity of small to medium sized companies and the strength of our growth sectors, such as tourism, food and drink and life sciences. We look forward to continuing our work in supporting these growth businesses and sectors and maintaining that resilience, which will be crucial as we move forward.

The panel survey findings build understanding and track the potential implications of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union for businesses in the region.  Findings are shared with Scottish Government and other partners to ensure that they are kept informed of the impacts on the Highlands and Islands business community.

The HIE Business Panel Survey report is available at www.hie.co.uk/businesspanel