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Highlands And Islands Enterprise Chairman Hails Area's Progress

29th May 2006

Photograph of Highlands And Islands Enterprise Chairman Hails Area's Progress

A year of remarkable progress in the economy of the Highlands and Islands has significantly enhanced the area's potential to become one of the best regions in the world to live, work, study and visit.

That was the message from William Roe, chairman of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) today as he announced the agency's performance against targets for the financial year 2005-06.

Mr Roe said: "Last June we set out an ambitious 20-year vision for the long-term sustainable economic and community development of this region in our new strategy A Smart, Successful Highlands and Islands. Progress in factors vital to achieving that vision has been remarkable.

"Population has grown throughout our area, average earnings have increased and unemployment continues to be at a historic low. The University of the Highlands and Islands is now on the brink of becoming a reality and virtually every part of our area is in a position to reap the huge benefits offered by broadband technology.

"In aspiring to become one of the best regions in the world to live, work, study and visit we set a high, but, we believe, achievable target. It is an aspiration shared by other areas throughout the world, with whom we have to compete vigorously for investment and people. Building on progress in recent years, the indications from the year just past strongly suggest we are moving in the right direction."

Mr Roe said that HIE invested 107million of mainly Scottish Executive and EU funding in the economy of the Highlands and Islands in 2005-06. Of that, more than 15million had been targeted on major strategic projects.

He continued: "As an organisation we have been refocusing our efforts in many areas to ensure we are best placed to work for the sustainable economic and social benefit for the whole area. Planning for long-term growth is not without challenges, as, for instance, is demonstrated by the continuing debate throughout the Highlands and Islands over the development of renewable energy.

"Part of the re-focussing of our efforts is reflected in our increasing investment in major strategic projects, which is continuing this year. By their nature, investing in such projects involves an element of risk, which, as an agency with responsibility for economic and community development, we fully accept. Our annual results show the majority making excellent progress."

Key measures of progress in HIE's results show major strategic projects which made progress in 2005-06, by meeting or approaching the milestones identified for them, included: the University of the Highlands and Islands; the Centre for Health Science; broadband coverage; renewable energy; the Highlands and Islands Community Energy Company; Highland 2007 and work relating to Dounreay decommissioning. Progress with the redevelopment of the Arnish industrial facility in the Outer Hebrides, the ABSL battery research and development programme and the redevelopment of Eden Court
theatre was satisfactory, but slower than had been hoped for in some aspects, largely due to circumstances outwith the Network's control.

During the year, HIE also exceeded all eight of its primary measure targets in its main operational areas: strengthening communities; developing skills; growing businesses and making global connections.

Twenty eight communities were assisted to acquire land and buildings. Large scale assets included the Galston Estate in Lewis and North Harris Estate adding the Loch Seaforth Estate (7,472 acres) to the land they acquired in 2003. Places where smaller building based projects were assisted included Keith, in Moray, Minard, in Argyll and Pennyghael on the island of Mull.

The Highlands and Islands Social Enterprise Zone became the first registered Community Interest Company in Scotland. Several initiatives were launched or supported to enhance the area's natural and cultural heritage.

In the area of developing skills, 2,999 people were supported to move towards and into sustainable employment and 983 businesses were helped to develop the skills of those in work. Progress was made with partner organisations to address the issues raised by the increasing number of migrant workers coming to live and work in the Highlands and Islands.

Considerable improvement was recorded in the achievement rates in the main training programmes: Modern Apprenticeships; Skillseekers, Get Ready for Work and Training For Work.

Careers Scotland exceeded targets set for career planning for people of working age (11,766 against a target of 10-11,000). SkillCity, the largest careers event in the Highlands and Islands took place for the second year in Dingwall in September, attended by 3,000 students and more than 70 businesses and organisations.

During the year the Network assisted 576 businesses to start up. Of these, just under half (276) were started by women and 61 by young people and 62 were in emerging sectors of the economy. A total of 356 business growth projects were also undertaken.

A new relationship with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was established to provide access for Highlands and Islands companies and sectoral groups to the science base at the world famous research centre.

The private sector earnings index for jobs assisted by the Network was 117 - ahead of the target of 108 - fulfilling the Network's aim to help raise income levels in the Highlands and Islands. However, it is recognised further progress needs to be made on this front to increase the number of quality employment opportunities throughout the area.

More than 160 businesses were helped to engage in international business, with particular success among companies involved in the creative industries.

Significant transport service enhancements included the introduction of the Invernet 1 commuter rail services into Inverness from the north and south, and the announcement of the introduction of lower fares and improved timetables for island flights.

Inward investment activity included attracting the First Scotrail contact centre to Fort William, creating 50 full-time-equivalent posts.

HIE chief executive Sandy Cumming said: "This has been a very eventful and successful year for the HIE network. During the course of the year we have planned and begun to implement the organisational changes we believe are necessary to achieve the aspirations set out in our new strategy.

"Against this backdrop I am delighted to be able to report that we have met or exceeded all our primary targets and made excellent progress on the vast majority of our major strategic projects.

"We are often labelled a 'job creation agency'. To achieve the aims of our strategy we need to be much more than that and, I think, the results we have announced today from a very broad range of activity over 12 months show, once again, that we are."

Highlands And Islands Enterprise Web Site


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