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Is Orkney the best place to run a business in Scotland?


Orkney, an archipelago of 70 islands, covers an area of 202 square miles, has a population of over 21,000, and sits on the north side of the tempestuous Pentland Firth, within sight of John o’ Groats.

Spending three days in Orkney in mid-March to attend the Orkney Business Festival and meet members and key stakeholders, Highlands & islands Area Leader Christena Irvine and I used the opportunity to find out more about doing business here. 

While obviously part of the UK, anyone who knows Orkney can have no doubts that it is different to mainland Britain, and nine out of ten Orkney businesses responding to an FSB Scotland survey said that they face different challenges to those of their remote Highland neighbours. However, the reasons they give for holding this belief are almost all shared with the remote mainland, so Orkney’s difference is certainly not down to trading circumstances alone. 

In the course of many conversations it became clear that Orkney is different to the Scottish mainland primarily because Orcadians feel that it is different: they share an immense pride in, and sense of belonging to, their islands; they enjoy a powerful and distinctive history and culture; they belong to very traditional, close-knit and supportive communities; and, very importantly, they share a really positive can-do attitude.

Orcadians have seized on their opportunities, and as a result they have a growing population (2001-2011 = +10.9%), a more economically active population than Scotland as a whole (85.4% versus 77.3% for Scotland), a higher proportion of self-employed (17.5% versus 11.8% for Scotland), a gross disposable household income 9% higher than Scotland’s, and unemployment at only 1% (2.5% for Scotland). No wonder Halifax Bank’s  Rural Areas Quality of Life Survey has just named Orkney the best rural place to live in the UK for the second year running!

Photographer, travel writer and FSB member Charles Tait of Tait Publishing said: “Orcadians are always keen to seize opportunities and get ahead of the curve whenever it is to their advantage to do so. We don’t take no for an answer – we make things happen.” 


Cycle shop owner and FSB member Alex Clark (pictured above) of Cycle Orkney moved to Orkney with the NHS and bought his shop in 2005. While always wary of the threat of online shopping, he loves running a business in Orkney where, “the community is very strong, businesses know their customers and their customers know them, and ‘shopping local’ is a shared aspiration”.