Scotland's public agencies are examining international solutions as they fight to deliver the best economic strategy to safeguard Moray from the effects of the Ministry of Defence RAF base review.
At a meeting chaired by Enterprise Minister Jim Mather and hosted by HIE, public agency leaders heard that continued uncertainty over the future of the RAF in Moray was having an adverse impact on the local property market and business confidence.
And as a community campaign bus set off for Downing Street with a petition bearing more than 30,000 names calling for RAF Lossiemouth to be saved, the top level group pledged its long term support. It called for a clean break from precedent and for a fresh outlook on the best ways to support communities affected by RAF closure.
Enterprise Minister Jim Mather said:
"The Scottish Government has made clear that we will do all we can to support the Moray community and local public agencies as they campaign to fight the impacts of the UK Government's Strategic Defence and Security Review.
"We underlined this commitment with the recent announcement of a £300,000 skills and training support package, and by meeting this week with the Moray Chambers of Commerce and local public agencies. And today the First Minister will make clear to the UK Defence Secretary, that retaining both RAF Leuchars and RAF Lossiemouth is a national priority.
"What we now need is for the UK Government to work with us to address the real and negative effect its decisions are having on the Moray economy and local people. It is time for Westminster to recognise its responsibilities, mobilise appropriate resources and put in place mitigation measures to lessen the burden it has placed on this community. There are lessons to be learned from other countries, including America, where the government takes ownership and responsibility for its defence decisions. The UK Government must do the same."
The Minister said that work already carried out through the Moray task force to support the community in its campaign, meant the area was perfectly placed to work together to create a visionary strategy for its own future.
Task force partners at RAF Kinloss are setting up skills assessment and retraining opportunities at Kinloss, with networking events and a work club planned for mid January at the base. Other activities to support the wider economy already underway include: a dedicated marketing programme for Moray by VisitScotland; accelerated local capital investment by the NHS; promotion by HIE and SDI of the Smart Exporter programme to support businesses expand their markets; and Moray Council is adapting its long term infrastructure plan for Elgin and the wider Moray area.
Alex Paterson, Chief Executive of HIE, said that developing a clear proposition for Moray's revitalisation was vital.
He commented: "The business community has given a clear message that it wants to create real solutions. We need to develop a strong case detailing what investments today will create a socially and economically sustainable Moray tomorrow.
"The public bodies here today have outlined many opportunities which could be developed, the growth of key sectors like energy and medical research, an internationally renowned food and drinks market and strong tourism. We want to encourage businesses to look to international markets and promote new inward investment. Moray is an amazing place to live and work and its future potential lies in supporting the skills of its people, its businesses and its communities."
Those attending the meeting included:
Scottish Government, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Skills Development Scotland, NHS Grampian , Scottish Development International, VisitScotland, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scottish Water, Transport Scotland, Job Centre Plus, Scottish Natural Heritage, Highland Council, Moray Council, Forest Enterprise Scotland and Moray MSP Richard Lochhead.