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Brexit uncertainty builds pressure on farmING and food.

Byline: Ken Symon

Like much of the Scottish business community, Perthshire and Angus has seen something of a business pause in recent months amid the continuing questions over what was happening with Brexit.

Tricia Fox, founder and managing director of Perth-based Marketing & PR agency Volpa, says: "With business life seemingly on hold during 2019 while our Government flipped and flopped over Brexit, there has been a similar degree of stop and start to the Perthshire business market that closely mimics the efforts of those in power.

"Towards the end of 2019, however, we have seen that balance tip and projects aplenty have been moving ahead with a clamour to get things done quickly.

"We've seen a lot of movement among clients to rationalise their offering or their premises, or to gear up for what many perceive will be some form of economic recession in the coming years. The boom, as you will, before the bust. Let's hope it doesn't come to that. But the market is jittery, that much is certain."

Robbie Cairns is owner of the Fortingall Hotel near Aberfeldy and founder and managing director of Heart 200, a new touring route of 200 miles around Perth, Stirling, the Trossachs and Highland Perthshire.

Cairns says: "Business has been becalmed in a sea of uncertainty, dither and delay for years thanks to Brexit overlaid by Scottish constitutional angst and division. Who needs enterprise and a thriving economy? Not us, it seems.

"Tourism in Perthshire and Angus trundles along. It could be better, it could be worse. Crucially, it could be brilliant! We have it all here - it's spectacular and that is why we have launched the new tourism initiative Heart 200 to shine a light on the very heart of Scotland.

"We want to welcome visitors worldwide to this beautiful land."

Caroline Warburton, regional leadership director at VisitScotland, echoes the point on the quality of the tourism offering in the area.

"With stunning scenery, awardwinning attractions and world class events, Perthshire and Angus have so much to offer visitors," she says.

"In 2018, Perthshire welcomed almost 784,000 overnight visitors who spent PS195m, while Dundee and Angus welcomed over 330,000, spending PS80m, showing visitors have a real appetite for these areas.

"And 2019 has been an important year for Perthshire, as it hosted the biggest ever Solheim Cup. The event welcomed 90,000 spectators from all over the world. This was an opportunity for the region's tourism industry to promote itself globally and showcase Scotland as the perfect stage for events.

"In its first year V&A Dundee welcomed over 830,000 visitors and, along with other significant developments across the city, contributed to one million people coming to Dundee. The museum and the city have been on a phenomenal journey, shining a global spotlight on themselves and cementing Dundee's place as a city of design, creativity and heritage.

"I was very pleased to involved with the launch of the Tay Cities Region Tourism Strategy 2019-2024 in September. The strategy covers the areas of Angus, Dundee, north-east Fife, Perth and Kinross and aims to grow the overnight visitor spend by three per cent every year, to PS550m in 2024.

The strategy provides a framework to bring the tourism industry in the region together, where we can collectively identify the activities which we can most effectively deliver at a region level."

An example of the quality of Perthshire's tourist offering was highlighted in a recent Scotlandwide list of top 10 winter walks for foodies. The list in The Scots magazine included a four-mile long Lady Mary's Walk in Crieff, near Gleneagles.

The walk starts at MacRosty Park and proceeds along the River Earn and an old railway line to walk under. The walk is richly endowed with wildlife, including herons, kingfishers, grey wagtails, oystercatchers and otters.

The magazine goes on to suggest that walkers finish with a meal at Gleneagles in the Strathearn restaurant or the Birnam Brasserie or by having an afternoon tea prepared by Gleneagles pastry chefs in the Glendevon Room, with its superb views overlooking the hotel's grounds and out to the Ochil Hills.

Elaine Kerr, director of property services in law firm and estate agency Miller Hendry, believes the shadow of Brexit does not appear to have affected the property market.

She says: "The Perthshire market appears to be bucking the trend of worrying about Brexit with many buyers and sellers pushing ahead with their plans to move home.

"This, combined with buyers realising they can get more for their money in Perth than in other larger Scottish cities, makes it so much more attractive to the buying market.

"In many areas this demand has resulted in a shortage of properties, driving up prices with many selling well in excess of their Home Report values. The average selling price in the area to the end of Q3 was PS184,464, an increase of 2.05 per cent on last year in that same period."

But sectors that have been very significantly affected by these geopolitical changes are agriculture, and food and drink.

Hamish Lean, head of agriculture and rural business at Shepherd & Wedderburn, has many clients among Perthshire and Angus's farming and food & drink businesses with a lot to contend with. He says: "The overall picture is that they are feeling pretty battered at the moment. They feel there is still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding Brexit.

"There is a three-pronged threat that they perceive. There's the uncertainty about the future of agricultural support payments when we leave the EU, albeit that the Government has made some assurances for the near future about continuing support - the size and the nature of the support is likely to change quite dramatically going forward, in that it's likely to be tied more to environmental good than efficiency of production.

"There's also the uncertainty surrounding the tariffregime when we come out of Europe and whether or not we will face swingeing tariffs in focus: Angus 3D Solutions Angus 3D Solutions, the Brechin-based 3D-printing specialist has entered the New Year with further expansion starting after receiving a PS175,000 grant from Zero Waste Scotland in 2018 and taking on its first employee last year.

The firm, headed by global manufacturing veteran Andy Simpson, is expanding its circular economy support by increasing its ability to reproduce obsolete parts to extend the life of older machines.

Another member of staffwill be taken on to deliver expanded services as the firm adds carbon fibre manufacturing capabilities to the range - to make it available to local businesses, a new vacuum-forming service to complement its prototype and manufacturing services, plus more additive manufacturing capacity via extra 3D printers.

This expansion complements the services already offered by Angus 3D Solutions and will allow the business to offer further services in reverse-engineering, design, rapid prototyping, production requirements and circular economy projects, reducing clients' time-to-market, mitigating risk and saving costs.

To house all the extra kit, Angus 3D is taking on a third unit at Brechin Business Centre with the help of Business Angus and neighbour TecNiche, which agreed to move so Angus 3D can simply add the unit next door to its existing pair.

Financial support has come from Scottish Enterprise in the form of a PS39,000 RSA grant, which has partially-funded the planned growth over the next three years.

"The circular economy is a huge opportunity for manufacturing as well as the oil and gas sector," says Andy Simpson. "Its ability to save on costs as well as time and materials is still in the early stages of being exploited by Scottish industry."

in respect of commodities in their principal market, which is essentially Europe.

"Whether they'll then be faced by competition from other producers elsewhere in the world, whether they'll be able to import on a little or no tariffbase and producing to production standards that are very much lower than our own, in which case we will be at a huge disadvantage competitively.

"There are also issues to do with seasonal labour arrangements going forward. It's a particular concern for Perthshire and Angus because of the concentration of the softfruit industry there.

"Raspberries and strawberries and the like are highly dependent on seasonal labour from eastern Europe. It was already problematic this last year or so and is likely to become even more so in the immediate future with the future arrangements far from clear, with particular regard to whether sufficient numbers of people will be allowed to come in and whether they'll want to come in post-Brexit."

Another issue for Perthshire farmers with the sector's particular emphasis on beef, Lean says, is the current debate on climate change and "the way that it's being framed at the moment along fairly simplistic lines that meat is bad".

He adds: "Of course, if you're cutting down huge swathes of the Amazon rainforest or you've got beef lots in America that might well be the case but beef production is particularly suited to Scotland, our climate, our vegetation and so on."

Added to this current gloom was a very poor harvest with very wet conditions causing farmers difficulties to get harvest completed.

"The industry is essentially battening down the hatches and looking to survive over the immediate future and will then react to whatever opportunities do start to present themselves in this brave new world that we're entering into."

"The industry has faced some pretty tough problems in the past, the foot and mouth crisis being a spectacular example, and I suppose BSE was another example of that.

"We've had very extreme weather conditions, we've had commodity prices rise and fall but the particular combination of particular circumstances this past year or so I think has been unusual. People are feeling under pressure at the moment."

As a result, farming businesses, he says, are looking at diversification whether it might be into producing gin or vodka, setting up visitor centres or farm shops.

Some are looking at the luxury accommodation market, with luxury accommodation pods and promoting rural getaways. Others are looking at sporting estates and forestry, and whatever else that is different that they can offer the marketplace.

Lean says: "Perthshire and Angus farmers are the ones who are going to identify those opportunities and pursue them, without a doubt, but there will be very hard times for some people and I suspect that some people won't survive."

Business pressures and previous insolvencies of other major companies have caused some Perth and Kinross businesses to succumb, including MJ Ventilation, which went into liquidation at the end of October with the loss of more than 80 jobs.

The Coupar Angus firm, which was founded in 2006, manufactured, installed and serviced ventilation systems for commercial and public sector clients.

The company had previously grown to an annual turnover of about PS7m but had been hit by cash flow problems compounded by bad debt arising from the insolvencies of Carillion and Dundee-based building contractor McGill & Co. | in focus: Commerce Dundee and Angus Chamber of Commerce received the Excellence in Membership Services Award at the British Chamber of Commerce 2019 Awards.

The Chamber now has more than 820 members who collectively employ 67,000 people. It has welcomed 212 new businesses in the last year including a significant number of micro-businesses that are looking to grow.

The Perthshire market appears to be bucking the trend of worrying about Brexit with many buyers and sellers pushing ahead with their plans Elaine Kerr, Miller Hendry (below)Business in Scotland has been becalmed in a sea of uncertainty, thanks to Brexit overlaid by Scottish constitutional angst and division Robbie Cairns, Fortingall Hotel and Heart 200Raspberries and strawberries and the like are highly dependent on seasonal labour from eastern Europe. It was already problematic last year Hamish Lean, Shepherd & Wedderburn


Above: The Jack Nicklaus-designed PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles was the scene of Europe's Solheim Cup win in September

Lady Mary's Walk by the River Earn in Crieff

Kinnoul Hill

Andy Simpson of Angus 3D Solutions
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Ken Symon
Publication:Insider Monthly
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 5, 2019
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