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The power and potential of Scotland’s islands

Published: 01/11/2019

Martin Johnson, HIE’s interim director of strategy and regional economy, looks at the importance of islands in the country’s economy.

Martin Johnson

Scotland’s islands are home to a substantial element of our rural industry, making powerful contributions to the country’s economy.

Their outstanding natural environments and rich cultural histories continue to draw people from across the globe. Through digital and mobile connectivity, transport links and infrastructure improvements, islands present attractive options as places to live, study or set up business.

Shetland has long been at the centre of the oil and gas industry, and as we move towards net zero carbon, is making its mark as a world leader in large scale decommissioning; admired for both location and expertise.

Orkney, identified as the best place to live in the UK, has been at the forefront of marine renewable energy development for decades. Home to the European Marine Energy Centre, its global reputation is set to be strengthened by the new Research and Innovation Campus in Stromness being developed by Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Orkney Islands Council.

The Outer Hebrides, the most visited of Scotland’s island groups, boasts strong school leaver attainment rates and a highly qualified working age population. With 23% of the sea area, it’s not surprising these islands have seen success in sectors such as marine tourism, food and drink and creative industries, as well life sciences, including a growing seaweed industry.

The new Islands Deal will enable the assets of Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides to be used in leading the way to net zero carbon through development and adoption of energy technologies and processes. It will maximise their potential as world class destinations and support traditional and high grown industries.

A new rural growth deal was also recently announced for Argyll and Bute, which has the highest number of inhabited islands (23), high self-employment rates and a well-qualified working age population. The area’s proximity to Scotland’s central belt makes it an attractive location for adventure tourism and for businesses seeking a rural location close to large populations.

Growth deal projects will drive innovation and employment and deliver sustainable and inclusive economic growth across the dispersed population and geography of the area.

All of this reminds us that there is tremendous potential for our island areas to create thriving local economies; increasing their net contribution to Scotland and the UK.

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