A range of activities to generate economic and community development across the Highlands and Islands over the next three years is outlined in the latest Operating Plan published today [Wednesday 11 April, 2012] by the region's development agency.
Ambitious plans to roll out superfast broadband throughout the region, grow key economic sectors and address challenges facing fragile areas all feature prominently.
Between April 2012 and March 2015, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) will invest a cash budget of at least £189.6m to pursue its vision of: 'a highly successful region in which increasing numbers of people choose to live, work, study and invest'.
This figure is made up of £145.2m (£48.4m each year) of baseline funding from the Scottish Government, augmented by anticipated income of £15m from the European Union, capital receipts (including property sales) of £12m, and revenue receipts (including property rentals) of £17.4m.
HIE's plan is aligned with the Scottish Government Economic Strategy, and built around four priorities
Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth John Swinney said:
"The Scottish Government and our enterprise agencies are working tirelessly to secure new jobs and investment for Scotland. HIE's Operating Plan 2012-15 sets out the agency's plans and actions to strengthen economic growth, around four priority areas, over the next three years.
"The Government Economic Strategy sets the direction for the public sector to work collaboratively with the private, academic and third sectors to accelerate growth and create jobs. The launch of HIE's Operating Plan complements this work and sets a longer-term vision on how we can work together to support economic opportunities across all areas of the Highlands and Islands."
HIE Chief Executive Alex Paterson said that, amid tough economic conditions, the region's businesses and communities remained ambitious, and that HIE was committed to supporting them.
"Ambition is and will continue to be at the heart of HIE,' he said. 'With the security of knowing our baseline budget from the Scottish Government for the next three years, we've been able to plan ahead with confidence.
"We'll have a strong focus on developing the sectors the Government Economic Strategy has identified as critical for Scotland's economic growth - energy, life sciences, creative industries, food and drink, sustainable tourism, financial and business services, and universities.
"At the same time, HIE's unique integration of community and economic development powers gives us the ability to pursue opportunities and address challenges affecting our fragile areas in particular.
"Our programme of regionally significant investments is designed to deliver benefits across the whole region. Superfast broadband in particular, is a service which will become vital to boost economic growth in the years ahead, and we're determined to ensure access across every part of the Highlands and Islands."
The development agency aims to support businesses, social enterprises and communities to create or retain between 700 and 900 jobs each year between now and 2015, including 100-150 in fragile areas.
Over each of the three years covered by the plan, locally-based HIE account managers, working closely with hundreds of businesses throughout the region, expect to help their clients increase turnover by between £70m and £90m.
International sales by account managed businesses are forecast to increase significantly. Working closely with communities we will support them to realise opportunities and deliver ambitious social, economic and cultural benefits.
At the same time, HIE will be investing in a number of major infrastructure projects designed to have long term impact.
Several are already under way, or about to begin. These include provision of superfast broadband to support businesses and communities across the region; developing marine leisure and fisheries facilities in Lochboisdale in the Outer Hebrides; the regeneration of John O'Groats; Inverness Campus; Moray Life Science Centre, and the European Marine Science Park in Argyll.
No fewer than six large-scale investments signal the importance of the Highlands and Islands energy sector, especially renewables and low carbon. These are at Nigg in Ross-shire, Machrihanish in Argyll, Hatston and the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney, Scrabster Harbour in Caithness, and Arnish in the Outer Hebrides.
HIE Chairman Lorne Crerar said that innovation and collaboration with a range of partners in the public, private and third sectors would play key roles in making the agency's plan a reality.
"Delivering our ambitions will require new ways of doing things, alternative sources of finance, innovative ideas, and a sharp focus on outcomes and impact,' said Professor Crerar.
"Above all it will need a collaborative approach that goes beyond what has been achieved to date. We're committed to being good partners, utilising our resources, experience and expertise. We invite businesses, communities and organisations across the Highlands and Islands to join us in delivering our ambitious agenda."