Rural and Environment
Publication of Rural Scotland Business Panel Survey
Businesses in rural and remote areas often look and operate in very different ways to their urban counterparts. For example, micro businesses account for 36% of employment in remote rural areas and 29% in accessible rural areas, while they only account for 13% of employment in the rest of Scotland. Rural businesses also experience significantly different challenges to their urban counterparts. We know, for example, that rural communities were hit particularly hard by the impacts of the pandemic.
Frequent capturing of rural business data is therefore crucial for supporting our rural economy, as well as understanding the differences across rural areas. However, up until now, evidence gathering on rural businesses and the rural economy has been provided in a somewhat disjointed approach. Between 2017 and 2020, Scottish Government funded the SRUC’s Rural Report, which surveyed rural businesses in Aberdeenshire, Dumfries & Galloway, the Scottish Borders and Tayside. Separately, Highland and Islands Enterprise (HIE) have been very successful in providing consistent data for their region through their Business Panel survey, established in 2017.
With the goals of consistency and collaboration in mind, we decided to try a more innovative approach, to close the gaps across the rural economy.
In September 2020, colleagues from Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services division began discussions with HIE, and the newly established South of Scotland Enterprise (SOSE). The discussion centred around a potential collaboration between the three organisation, to build a panel survey building on the well-established HIE model for all of rural Scotland.
After nearly a year of meetings, action points, and many coffees, the three organisations jointly launched the Rural Business Panel Survey. This collaboration is the first of its kind, and the outcome is the largest survey specifically focused on Scottish rural businesses we have undertaken.
The first roll out of the survey, between October and December 2021, was facilitated by Ipsos MORI. It captured the views of over 2,700 businesses, on a variety of topics (for example, costs and finances, labour issues, supply chain concerns, net zero, fair work).
The findings show a picture of both continued vulnerability, but also resilience in the face of challenging economic circumstances.
- Rural businesses were generally confident in the economy and were optimistic about their future prospects. Just over a third were striving for growth, whilst a further 50% were content at their current levels of performance.
- Additionally, 60% of businesses were operating at either the same level, or above the level, they were at before the pandemic.
- However, most businesses had experience increased costs in the past year, and supply chain issues were common.
- Half of businesses had also experienced labour shortages.
- Moving to net zero was seen as important but, in the short term, the top priorities for businesses were keeping pace with new technology and innovation.
We are now preparing to roll out the second round of this vital survey, which will continue to enhance our understanding of the pressures faced by rural businesses.
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