Unlocking the potential of the Highlands and Islands will be a key factor in Scotland’s recovery, writes Alistair Dodds, Chair of HIE.

Nothing focuses the mind more than a crisis.

And focus is what life has been all about this year; first on fighting the spread of the virus, while supporting businesses and communities, and now on recovery and rebuilding the economy.

Over the past few months, staff at HIE have put in a huge effort to help distribute over £28m of additional Scottish Government funding to hard-hit businesses and communities in all parts of our region.

At the same time, we’ve been reaching out to our customers and partner organisations, gathering intelligence and planning how best we can support the Highlands and Islands economy through recovery and onto future growth once again.  

This week the Scottish Government published its Programme for Government, having already welcomed recommendations from the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery (AGER) and the Enterprise and Skills Strategic Board (ESSB).

Collaboration is a strong theme that runs through all these responses to the pandemic and I very much welcome this. Engagement with local communities, businesses, other public bodies and local authorities is fundamental to achieving progress.

I have seen these partnerships strengthen during the crisis and I expect they will become stronger still during the recovery stage.

For instance, the series of Growth Deals across the region are all predicated on effective collaboration.

Green recovery also features strongly in the Programme for Government. The new £100m Green Jobs Fund will encourage businesses and organisations that provide sustainable or low carbon products and services to develop, grow and create jobs.

At the same time, a programme of collaborative projects will help realise the full potential of Scotland’s marine economy, much of it in our region.

Our marine environment is ideal for offshore wind, wave and tidal energy development and the infrastructure and skills base associated with our long-standing links with the oil and gas industry are invaluable assets. It’s also a rich resource for scientific research and development, and for the further growth of a sustainable aquaculture sector.

It’s vital we do all we can to provide opportunities for young people in particular to pursue rewarding careers in the region. The government’s pledge to invest in initiatives such as the Youth Guarantee, ensuring 16-24 year olds have the opportunity of work, education and training will be especially important.

One of our great strengths as a region is the relatively high proportion of SMEs – businesses and social enterprises with fewer than 25 workers.

These enterprises make for a flexible and dynamic economy that can adapt quickly to changing circumstances and new opportunities.

Planned measures to help SMEs benefit more from public sector contracts should make a real difference for many firms across the Highlands and Islands and strengthen their role in the wider recovery.

Meanwhile, the National Transition Training Fund will help many people who are facing redundancy or unemployment as a result of the pandemic get back into employment.

It’s clear from the Programme for Government that unlocking the potential of the Highlands and Islands will be a key factor in Scotland’s recovery.

We look forward to working with businesses, social enterprises, communities and partners to make the most of new opportunities, to bring benefits for every part of the region, and to make sure the Highlands and Islands emerge from this crisis as quickly as possible.


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