It is hard to believe that it is almost a year since the Royal Highland Show was filled with faces of disbelief at the outcome of the Brexit referendum. Twelve months on and for many, disbelief has changed to frustration as so little detail has emerged as to what our post-Brexit world will look like – the only thing we do know is that significant change is inevitable.
It is clear that rural businesses will have to demonstrate an unprecedented creativity to adapt if they are to survive and thrive.
We are moving towards a situation where there will be less money available through direct support, whether it be channelled from the European Union or a domestic source.
That will mean that increasing the profitability of rural businesses will be key to ensuring they are robust to withstand the challenges. Where there may still be some funding available, we expect it to be directed differently – and for support to be directed at the provision of public goods.
It is incumbent on us as a sector and as an organisation to work with government, both here in Scotland and at Westminster, to help ensure that the change takes place in a way that will allow our industries and individual businesses time to adapt.
In my view, Brexit leads to two main challenges: increasing the profitability of businesses to be able to be more resilient, and ensuring that we are much better able to demonstrate to a wider public that land-based businesses are delivering public goods that directly benefits wider society.
We plan to continue our work on a direction for Scottish land management – following the publication of our document in March, we will be working with other organisations to refine our thinking and identify common ground as well as commencing work on understanding the impact on individual land based businesses of changes in approach to rural policy and support.
Our recent Spring Conference highlighted that even in these uncertain times, our members are making significant investment in their businesses. This has resulted not only in increased resilience for the estate businesses themselves, but has also delivered a wide range of benefits to the local area and indeed the rural economy. Our members are clearly demonstrating that they are delivering for rural communities and addressing global issues such as climate change as well as improving their own bottom lines – a win-win situation!
Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, told those attending our conference that collaborative relationships between the Government and businesses, based on trust, are key to encouraging increased investment.
It is not going to be an easy time to be running a land-based business (has it ever been easy?), but I do believe that with a constructive partnership with the Scottish and UK Governments, we can deliver the vibrant countryside we all seek and not only survive but thrive in a post-Brexit world.
David Johnstone, Chairman, Scottish Land & Estates