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Cta Man

Ambition and innovation in Argyll and the Islands

Published 09/06/2022 by Stuart Black 4 min read

Stuart Black, HIE's chief executive reflects on his recent visit to businesses and community groups in Argyll and the Islands. 

The sun rises early at this time of year, and so did Chair of HIE Alistair Dodds and I last Wednesday (1 June) as we set off for a busy and hugely enjoyable visit to Argyll. 

Our first stop was the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), the nationally-renowned life sciences research, education and enterprise centre at Dunstaffnage, near Oban. As well as being the UK’s longest-established marine science organisation, SAMS is a significant local employer and provides the academic expertise around which HIE has developed the European Marine Science Park. 

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Commercialisation of science is a significant driver of the Scottish economy, and we’ve been working closely with the team at SAMS for several years now to identify and develop opportunities that are delivering high quality jobs as well as advancing our understanding of the marine environment. 

From there, it was a short walk across the science park campus to Malin House, a building that HIE built just over 10 years ago, and which now provides office and laboratory space for several innovative companies. It was fascinating to meet staff at fish health specialist PatoGen and at Tritonia, which carries out important underwater surveys for a range of clients, including leading aquaculture and renewable energy firms.  

Our marine resource is set to play a key role in Scotland’s future economic growth and, of course, the achievement of our net zero ambitions, so it was great to see so the combination of expertise and business activity taking place at Dunstaffnage. Equally encouraging is the amount of new housing that has been developed around the campus  in nearby Dunbeg.  

Continuing the net zero theme, after calling in to discuss local issues with colleagues in HIE’s area team in Lochgilphead, our next stop was to meet staff in the new innovation centre operated there by Renewable Parts Ltd. 

Employing around 15 people and with ambitious plans for growth, Renewable Parts Ltd provides supply chain and inventory management expertise to a range of clients in the renewable energy sector. I was really struck also by its work to refurbish wind turbine parts so they can be used again – a great example of the ‘circular economy’ in action. 

Wednesday concluded with a very productive discussion with Pippa Milne, chief executive of Argyll and Bute Council. Strong partnerships are vital in economic development, particularly to tackle some of the deep-seated challenges that affect Argyll and other areas – such as the need for adequate, affordable housing; transport infrastructure and services, including ferries, and fast, reliable digital communications. These are big issues, especially in remote mainland areas and islands, that can’t be fixed quickly but which require coordinated action across partner bodies. 

On Thursday in Kintyre, Machrihanish proved a mixed experience. While it was sad to see the vast industrial site that used to host wind tower manufacturer CS Wind (UK) Ltd currently standing empty, there is no doubt that this is a great asset for Kintyre, with the potential to attract new investment and generate economic opportunities that will benefit the local community. With the site now soon to be back in HIE’s control, we are gearing up an international marketing effort that aims to see that potential being realised. 

It was also hugely encouraging to meet representatives of Machrihanish Airbase Community Company (MACC), who own the business park and are actively promoting its use as a location for both small and large businesses, and a great backdrop for film and TV productions. With a 3000m  runway, the former military base is also looking to host satellite launches from shuttle-type craft as part of our region’s growing space sector. 

From Campbeltown, which was bustling with early summer visitors, we headed up the west coast and took the ferry to our last stop of the trip, the island of Gigha. This is unquestionably one of Scotland’s most beautiful islands, with a host of  small business activity including a new community-led campsite  and Achamore Gardens a prime attraction for tourists.  

As the saying goes, however, you can’t eat scenery. Although it was wonderful to experience Gigha at its loveliest in the warm June sunshine, like all islands, its future sustainability will depend on new opportunities, particularly housing to attract more young people to remain or relocate there. Again, this is where partnership working – across the public sector, and with private businesses, social enterprises and other community organisations – can make a real difference.  

Pic caption: The Gigha team: Ian Wilson - Chair Fergus Christie and Jane Clements - directors Jane Miller - Business Development Manager

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