The cost-of-living emergency is hurting people and businesses everywhere and is acute for the 450,000 people who work in, and 50,000 businesses based in, rural Scotland.

Energy and fuel costs are higher in rural Scotland, with many households and businesses not connected to the gas grid. With people facing a choice between heating and eating and being unable to afford to drive, and more likely to be self-employed, their welfare and the sustainability of local services and businesses are big concerns.

Cost increases are also unprecedented for key industries such as food and drink. For example, many Scotch whisky distillers report a doubling in their energy and shipping costs. Inflation in what farmers must pay for their fertiliser is nearly 300 per cent.

Difficulties for rural businesses come on top of recovery from the Covid pandemic and widespread skills shortages that a lack of local housing makes it hard to address.

We are calling for governments to embed the specific challenges for rural Scotland in an urgent, wider response to the crisis

We are calling for governments to embed the specific challenges for rural Scotland in an urgent, wider response to the crisis. But in our recent discussions with rural business members, we have heard too about investment, growth and strong prospects.

Seagreen, Scotland’s biggest offshore wind farm, is a £3 billion project with a generating capacity of 1.1 gigawatts. But the ambition is to deliver investment in 11 gigawatts of offshore wind, enough to power more than eight million homes, and 12 gigawatts of onshore wind, by 2030.

A free trade agreement in negotiation between the UK and India that reduces the tariff on Scotch whisky could grow industry exports to India by £1 billion over five years.

Sustainable growth in housing, energy efficiency, infrastructure and food production is key to unlocking opportunities in rural areas and needs to be enabled by planning and regulatory changes. Investment in renewables and land for carbon offsetting should also address rural energy challenges and drive local economic and social progress.

SCDI published the report by our Rural Commission in 2019. It said that rural areas have their own key strengths that we should better understand

and value as a country. Over the coming weeks, SCDI will refresh this report to help rural businesses navigate through stormy waters towards the opportunities from a low-carbon, digital economy.