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Spending on SMEs must be increased, hopefuls told

Prospective Highland Council candidates are being urged to reverse the declining amount the local authority forks out on goods and services provided by small firms based in the region.

Business representatives yesterday hit out after it was revealed local companies secured just over a quarter of the council's spend in 2015/16 compared to a third in 2011/12.

According to Caithness Chamber of Commerce chief executive Trudy Morris the drop is having a significant impact on businesses in the far north.

The figures were released by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) which is calling on the incoming Highland Council to increase its spend with small and medium-sized firms.

Ms Morris said: "We were alarmed to see the FSB's claims that Highland Council's spend with SMEs has dropped to just 23.1 per cent of their procurement budget. This is a significant decrease from previous years and is likely to have a significant impact on small businesses in the North Highlands.

"With the local government elections fast approaching, we would call on all candidates to get out there and interact with local businesses to understand how they are affected by council policies and decisions.

"It is important that our local councillors fight for the best possible deal for businesses in the North Highlands, and the only way they can do this is to understand the concerns and priorities of businesses in their area."

Ms Morris added: "The council said earlier in the year that 65 per cent of their spend was commissioned outwith the Highlands and pledged that the procurement shared services agreement with Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire councils would look to reduce this year on year. We would call on the council to make good their pledge and also drive up spend with SMEs."

Ms Morris said it is not acceptable that while government departments and agencies are encouraged and measured on SME spend that the council's performance on the issue is not good. The council's spend of 23.1 per cent compares to 53.6 per cent for Shetland, 44.5 per cent for Orkney and 40.2 per cent for the Western Isles - the top three performers in the Scottish council league table. Highland Council is 11th on the list.