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24th March 2007

Plans to invest almost 375 million over the next three years in economic and community development across the Highlands and Islands have just been published by the area's enterprise network.

The latest operating plan from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) details the key strategic projects which the development agency will be backing between now and 2010, along with a set of eight 'primary measure' targets covering many smaller-scale initiatives.

HIE agrees its operating plan on an annual basis with the Scottish Executive to set out how it will deliver the Executive's enterprise strategy, 'A Smart Successful Scotland', and translate its own strategy, 'A Smart, Successful Highlands and Islands', into specific actions to grow businesses, strengthen communities, develop skills and make global
connections for the area.

Current strategic projects towards which the agency is already contributing cover a wide range of issues designed to create a successful region - from business growth, higher education and cutting edge research to arts and culture, renewable energy and community development.

These are: establishing the University of the Highlands and Islands; the Fs Centre for Creative and Cultural Industry at Sabhal Mor Ostaig, Skye; Centre for Health Science and Diabetes Institute, Inverness, the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney; Highlands and Islands Community Energy Company; South Uist Estate; Highland 2007; Eden Court Theatre redevelopment, Inverness; Corpach redevelopment, by Fort William; Distance Lab research institute; Raasay House restoration; business opportunities at
Arnish Point, Stornoway; Balcas wood pellet manufacturing, Invergordon, and the Argyll Marine Science Initiative.

The operating plan also highlights a second list of projects which the Network is committed to supporting, but for which it has not yet formally approved funding. These projects are: the Caithness Action Plan; Moray 2020 Action Plan; East Beechwood campus development, Inverness; Inverness Airport Business Park, and maximising the benefits of broadband.

A third list outlines strategic projects which are still at development or appraisal stage - development of the Nigg fabrication yard; Shetland decommissioning infrastructure; further education provision in the west Highlands, and Fort William waterfront.

Under the heading of 'primary measures', HIE's operating plan sets out eight numerical targets for smaller-scale projects which will directly affect thousands of individual businesses, communities and individuals across the Highlands and Islands.

In 2007-08, these include contributing towards 200 new or enhanced community assets; 'increasing capacity' for 120 community groups; helping 2,405 people to move into sustainable employment; supporting 655 businesses to develop their workforce skills; 550 new business starts; 200 business growth projects, and 200 firms engaging in international business development.

The Network also aims to contribute towards raising income levels across the HIE area by supporting job creation projects which pay 12 per cent more than the private sector average wage.

HIE chief executive Sandy Cumming said: "The operating plan is HIE's annual agreement with the Scottish Executive which details the specific projects and actions we will take to deliver our long-term objectives.

"As an accountable agency, it's important that we set measurable targets so that our overall performance can be judged objectively every year.

"At the same time, the list of key strategic projects which are either under way or in the pipeline demonstrates that the HIE network remains highly ambitious for every part of our area, from Shetland to Argyll and from Moray to the Hebrides."

This year, for the first time, HIE's operating plan underwent a strategic environmental assessment (SEA), to gauge the potential effects the Network's activities could have on the environment.

The assessment was aided by responses from a public consultation and commits HIE to minimise negative environmental impacts.

Measures the agency will now take include monitoring progress with its SEA commitments; measuring the carbon footprint of the Highlands and Islands and of HIE's external and operating expenditure; reviewing sustainable development and environmental best practice in other appropriate organisations, and augmenting project appraisal methodology to include criteria that will consider impact on the environment.

Sandy Cumming added: "When we launched our present strategy in 2005, we made a conscious commitment to pursue sustainable development. The SEA is an important new tool which will help us deliver on that commitment."

Both HIE's operating plan 2007-10 and the post-adoption SEA statement can be viewed and downloaded online at on the HIE website.


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