Blue waters of Lossiemouth harbour and beach

Lossiemouth, credit Paul Campbell

Times of crisis show qualities that will help the Highlands and Islands build back better.

At the recent SCDI Business Awards, held online, I was delighted to see the Cullen Bay Hotel in Moray receive the Crown Estates Scotland gold award for outstanding support for a coastal community.

This symbolised one of the things that’s impressed me most during the whole pandemic crisis and that will serve the region well through recovery.

I refer to the extent to which communities pulled together to help those in need.

As regional development agency, we worked with more clients during 2020/21 than in any typical year and saw examples of true community spirit in action everywhere we looked.

In the early stages we were working flat out to distribute funds as quickly as possible to affected communities and businesses; in many cases helping new clients who weren’t used to applying for public funds.

Across the Highlands and Islands we distributed more than £40m of emergency support to around 1700 businesses and community organisations, delivered through 13 Scottish Government and HIE schemes.  

Much of our activity was about providing essential cashflow to help firms through the immediate crisis. Other areas of our work were more strategic, such as support for digital engagement as more business moved online, and the Young Company Investment Grant to help early-stage companies.

Recognising the importance of tourism to the Highlands and Islands, we also created a £3m Destination Management Organisation (DMO) recovery fund. A tourism recovery plan for Moray, led by Visit Moray Speyside, was one of the first projects to benefit from this.

In the course of all this, we could see business people fully active in their communities, while those same communities supported their most vulnerable residents.

In Lossiemouth, for example, the Community Development Trust, Community Council, Community Association, the Lossie 2-3 Group, and others including local volunteers, businesses and churches came together to help co-ordinate the emergency response.  

A 'Wellbeing Team' was responsible for non-food care packages and a 'Keeping in Touch Team' ensured that residents who had no means of communicating with others were supported to keep in contact with family, friends and essential services. 

In Findhorn too, more than 70 volunteers worked together to provide emergency help for those shielding, isolating or struggling due to loss of income.

And of course in Cullen, the Cullen Bay Hotel provided thousands of meals for its local community in times of need. The pandemic dominated 2020 and is still having a great impact globally and on our region. At HIE we are set to continue working with many more clients than in previous years.

Our three key areas of focus going forward are:

• recovery in areas most exposed to the twin impacts of COVID and Brexit;

• a green recovery – Scotland’s target for a net zero economy by 2045 and 75% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030; and

• fair work - employers paying the real living wage, avoiding zero hours contracts, and promoting employee engagement; all key factors in attracting and retaining talent and population. 

To create a successful, fair and green recovery we’ll continue to prioritise tourism, food and drink, renewables and the creative industries, while pursuing opportunities in emerging sectors like life sciences, space and the marine economy.

And the COP26 discussions in Glasgow in November will see the region’s strengths in renewables, forestry and peatland showcased.

The think global - act local truism in dealing with climate change is another area where we’ve seen Moray shine. 

One of our social enterprises, tsiMORAY, ​founded and host the Moray Climate Assembly to inspire action to deliver a just and green recovery towards COP26 and beyond.

The range of participants in this is impressive, from Moray yes, but also internationally. 

Indeed, one of its sessions was led by Katherine Trebeck one of Scotland’s foremost thinkers on how to build back better. She writes about the well-being economy where social justice is combined with a healthy planet. 

This holistic approach is what we strive to achieve with our focus on net zero and fair work. The next few years will determine whether we hit the ambitious targets and make a just transition. 

Our region should be in the vanguard of this effort and with the ‘pull factor’ approach mentioned above, there’s every reason to be confident that it will be. 

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