Brandish Bute director hits back at subsidy critics

ONE of the directors of Brandish Bute, the subsidiary of Bute Community Land Company set up to sell and market the island’s produce, has hit back at complaints this week that the organisation has an unfair advantage over local competition.

Financial support has been provided by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Argyll and the Islands LEADER and the Scottish Government’s Future Jobs Fund to enable Brandish Bute to employ a marketing manager, to establish a website to sell local arts and crafts and to take on a shop manager to run the Brandish Bute shop in East Princes Street.

But the recent publication of a draft business plan for Brandish Bute Ltd (BBL) has led to two of the shop’s potential rivals hitting out at the lack of a level playing field for the sale and marketing of locally-produced arts and crafts.

Phil Kirkham, who runs Picture Bute in Albert Place, and Mark McCormack, owner of The Tartan Shop in Victoria Street, both fear that Brandish Bute, with its grant support, will take business away from their own unsubsidised operations.

But BBL director Sara Goss has told The Buteman she does not believe the Brandish Bute shop does compete directly with other local businesses.

The draft business plan, compiled by Brandish Bute marketing manager Charles Dixon-Spain, states that Brandish Bute “is very much of the view that the more complementary and competing retail outlets there are available in Rothesay, the more of a shopping and gift venue the island becomes”.

In a section headed ‘Our Competitors’, the business plan says the Tartan Shop “is focussed on a general, mass market metric, designed to access a generic Scottish connection for visitors”.

Of Picture Bute, it says: “Given its proximity and the similarities in offering, this business represents the highest possibility of a cross-over in terms of market.

“However, given that this is again focused on visual products (i.e. photographic placemats, art and posters), as well as having a production capacity in-store, and that this again focuses on mass-market rather than a more affluent clientele, the effect of and on the BBL shop remains minimal.”

Mr Kirkham did not mince his words when we asked for his thoughts on the business plan and on Brandish Bute’s operation in general.

“It’s a typical consultant’s report,” he said of the plan. “It’s not written in a language an ordinary person would use.

“It’s a load of rubbish, really. They say they’re not there to compete with other shops, but of course they’re competing.

“I don’t mind fair competition at all, but they’re getting grants here, there and everywhere, and I don’t see that as fair when I’ve been told HIE doesn’t support retail.

“Just because they use some fancy words on their business plan saying they don’t compete doesn’t mean they don’t.”

Mr McCormack, meanwhile, told us that while he was a supporter of Bute Community Land Company, he was concerned at the impact the Brandish Bute shop could have on its potential competitors.

“The original idea, that it would be a shop for the forest, had my support,” he said.

“Then suddenly it became Brandish Bute. Now I support BCLC, and I’ve got no problem with there being a marketing manager – in fact, I think Brandish Bute could be what VisitScotland should be for the island, but isn’t.

“But all businesses are struggling at the moment, and I don’t think it’s right that a business like Brandish Bute is getting grant aid and is taking trade away from bona fide businesses like mine and Phil’s.”

But Brandish Bute director Sara Goss told us she did not see the issue as one of one business competing against another.

“The first thing is that the shop is not funded by the grant support from HIE and LEADER,” she said. “That funding was given to employ a marketing manager, to take Bute products to trade shows and to establish an e-commerce site.

“The shop is there to complement existing businesses - I don’t see it as a question of individual businesses competing against each other. The website will promote any producer who wants to be a part of it.

“The reason we got that funding is because HIE loved the idea of businesses coming together and working co-operatively to complement each other.

“That’s what businesses do. Phil’s own printing business and shop complement each other and they do very well as a result.

“The retail market is tight. I get that. But I hope that if people have something to sell, our e-commerce site will help them to do that.

“We need to raise the game of Bute as a whole - we can’t just have one shop which sells a good product and that’s the only one that’s allowed to survive.”