Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP has launched a new three-year operating plan for Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).
The new plan is launched as HIE marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of its predecessor, the Highlands and Islands Development Board (HIDB), which began operating in November 1965.
Entitled 'Building our Future', the plan shows how HIE will invest its annual budget of £97.7m to build successful businesses, social enterprises and resilient communities; supporting the growth of industry sectors, and make key strategic interventions to create the conditions for a competitive global region.
In line with Scotland’s new Economic Strategy, which the First Minister launched on 3 March, HIE is increasing its efforts to support innovation, investment, internationalisation and inclusive growth.
The agency, which is currently leading a £146m project to deliver high-speed fibre broadband across the Highlands and Islands, also aims to expand and maximise the benefits of digital technologies.
The First Minister welcomed the new plan as a key part of achieving Scotland’s Economic Strategy in the region, which covers more than half of the country. She said:
“Highlands and Islands Enterprise today is every bit as ambitious for this part of Scotland as the founders of the Development Board were 50 years ago.
“The Highlands and Islands of 2015 presents Scotland with significant economic opportunities. Both the Development Board and HIE have played a vital role in the region over the past decades and I am delighted that HIE continues to demonstrate the vision and appetite needed to build a strong future for the people of the Highlands and Islands.”
Alex Paterson, HIE chief executive, said: “The Highlands and Islands can make a major contribution to the delivery of Scotland's Economic Strategy. It is a region of entrepreneurship, innovation and exporting as well as leading the way in community ownership of land and assets. Industries which for many years have been vital to the region's economy are growing alongside emerging sectors with significant potential.
“We need to continue investing in facilities such as broadband technology, development sites, premises and transport. We also need to encourage the use of cultural assets such as Gaelic and landscapes to promote the Highlands and Islands as a prime location for business, for university education and for tourism, and as a place of choice in which to live, work study and invest.”
Some of the key annual targets in HIE’s new plan include increasing turnover of supported businesses by between £80m and £100m and supporting the creation or retention of 700 to 900 full time equivalent jobs. There will be a focus on innovation and exporting and a drive to increase turnover of the region’s social economy by £3m - £4.5m each year.