The housing issue is one that every salmon company, therefore many of our members, has unfortunately found itself embroiled in.
Our members offer a wide range of good jobs in beautiful locations that have many desirable traits. To keep retention high, the companies know it is important for their staff to love living and working around the farms but they also know it can be difficult to keep them in the area if they are struggling to find accommodation.
In recent years, some salmon companies have taken possession of new homes in popular Highlands villages. These are not holiday homes, they are not being taken by retirees moving up from the Central Belt or from London, they are not even local housing association properties for those on the housing list. These houses have been bought and signed off by Salmon Scotland members directly to house employees to ensure they can stay in a job long-term.
Currently, there are around 60 properties either owned or rented by our farming companies which, between them, provide accommodation for more than 130 colleagues in Eday in Orkney, in Tarbert on Harris, across Sutherland and the Uists to Mull, Ullapool and Applecross.
But the housing crisis in rural Scotland is not just down to the region's popularity with second homeowners. There is also a problem with vacant properties.
According to research by money.co.uk, using Scottish Government data, the Western Isles has the highest proportion of empty homes in the UK at 13.3 per cent. That's 2,000 empty homes from a total of just 15,000 dwellings. The research found that Argyll and Bute is not far behind on 10.4 per cent, followed by Orkney and Shetland on 9.1 per cent. All four of these regions see salmon farming as a major sector and contributor to their local economies.
Na h-Eileanan an Iar MSP Alasdair Allan said in January 2023 that the isles are in the grip of a "real housing crisis", highlighting the complex mix of issues causing this.
Salmon Scotland feel it is important to reinforce the need for this issue to be addressed at every opportunity. In 2022, we paired with the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership to make a joint call for vacant properties to be brought back in to use to tackle the rural housing crisis in Shetland. We urged Shetland Islands Council and other local authorities to explore more ways to bring homes back in to use.
Furthermore, Salmon Scotland is urging ministers to overhaul the current system so that the millions sent to Crown Estate Scotland by salmon farmers are instead ringfenced for investment in coastal areas.
House prices have risen more in the Highlands and islands than across the whole of Scotland over the past two decades, raising fears that people and businesses are being forced out of the country's most fragile communities. Our analysis of data from the Registers of Scotland shows that while prices across Scotland rose by 89 per cent in 2022 compared to the 2004 baseline, the increase was as high as 168 per cent in some remote areas.
Scotland's cluttered licensing regime and rent hikes means that more than £20million-a-year is due to paid by salmon farmers to various regulators and quangos.
The millions sent from rural areas to Crown Estate Scotland in Edinburgh are currently handed to the Scottish Government and redistributed across the entire country.
Salmon Scotland is calling for around £10million of the revenue to be reinvested in rural communities, with a particular focus on housing. This would help attract more people to come and live and work in all jobs in coastal communities, while also retaining locals to help to tackle de-population.