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HIE Announces Measures To Help Regions Businesses

7th December 2008

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) today announced some newly available initiatives, with others soon to be put in place, to help the region's businesses through the current economic difficulties.

Chair Willy Roe explained: "The economic situation is extremely challenging and businesses in the region are facing very difficult times. A number of operators in export markets such as whisky and those supporting the energy industry appear to be holding up well, but factors such as a reduction in consumer spending and difficulties for businesses and households in getting credit, are putting the business community under tremendous strain.

"There is support we can offer immediately, and this will be strengthened through a phased response we intend to deliver over the next quarter. We are working closely with our local authority partners to identify appropriate measures and to ensure that advice and information is made available to businesses quickly and efficiently."

Services HIE can make available to businesses immediately include:

One-to-one advice sessions A team of business advisers is available through HIE's contractor Development Partners, to provide tailored advice, free-of-charge, to all businesses regardless of size or sector throughout the Highlands and Islands, either face-to-face or by telephone. These advisers can help with issues such as, preparing to approach banks, identifying appropriate finance and analysing the underlying issues facing businesses. Businesses can apply for this service by contacting HIE's local offices by telephone or email.

Web-based information HIE's dedicated business website - has been enhanced to provide advice specifically aimed at businesses experiencing difficulties such as how to self-assess the well-being of your own company or how to defer tax payments.

Interest Relief Grant for businesses of growth which find that borrowing rates have risen considerably, HIE will consider providing grant assistance towards the increased interest element.

Acceleration of capital spend HIE is examining its prospective capital projects to identify those that can be brought forward for the benefit of the construction industry. It is anticipated the first of these can be announced next week.

By mid December - HIE intends to provide:

A telephone and email advice line for a fixed period, HIE will establish a free telephone advice line during weekdays and Saturday mornings, staffed by trained advisers who will offer advice or, if required, direct enquirers to other agencies for more specific information. Clients may be directed to the one-to-one advice service or informed of business clinics or master classes which will be running across the area. The helpline service will also help HIE establish a picture of how the recession is affecting local businesses. It will be widely publicised in local press and radio.

During 2009 first quarter HIE intends to provide:

Business clinics - A series of afternoon business clinics will be run throughout the region, a minimum of one in each HIE local area, where partner business organisations such as business intermediaries, HM Revenues and Customs, local authorities etc, will present workshops on specific areas such as: bank finance, handling redundancy etc.

Business masterclass programme in partnership with other business organisations, HIE will organise masterclasses held by high profile, respected presenters. This programme of presentations on sector or issue-specific topics which will be made available by webcast and, after the event, as a podcast via the HIE site.

Half-Year Review
In the current financial year, HIE reports good progress on its transformational projects which will form cornerstones for the region's long-term economic prosperity.

Key projects such as phases II and III of the Centre for Health Science and Beechwood Campus in Inverness, the development of marine science initiatives in Argyll, the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney and the Caithness and North Sutherland Action Plan are meeting progress targets, as are region-wide activities such as support for UHI and the region's key sectors.

Phase II of the Centre for Health Science (CfHS) is now fully occupied by the NHS, the University of Aberdeen's Remote and Rural; Healthcare Educational Alliance and the new CfHS company. Phase III is complete and due for occupation later this month, tenants include NHS Highland, UHI's clinical research facility and health faculty and by Lifescan Scotland.

HIE's project to create a new campus at Beechwood, between the A9 and A96 approaches to Inverness, is also on course for the submission of an outline planning application to Highland Council in spring 2009.

Under the Moray 2020 Action Plan HIE anticipates securing deals before the end of the financial year to acquire land in Buckie and Elgin to form two new business parks.

At Arnish in the Outer Hebrides, HIE is seeking advanced planning permission for the provision of land to create an operating base with heavy lifting capability, following operator interest. At this stage prospects for further orders in the immediate future for the current incumbents, Altissimo, look limited.

HIE's application to develop a phased marine science park at Dunstaffnage in Argyll continues to progress through the planning process. Following local consultation, content of the Kintyre Action Plan has been agreed in principle and awaits endorsement by the Community Planning Partnership. Discussion between Vestas, HIE, Scottish Development International and a third party continue regarding investment proposals at the Vestas site at Machrahanish, while the agency continues to work with the MoD to maximise benefits to the area stemming from the proposed disposal of the neighbouring RAF base.

In South Uist the community-owned and managed estate has been supported by HIE in its achievements of re-opening the Askernish Golf Course and working up a planning application for community wind turbines, and in its pursuit of a number of other projects.

In Shetland, HIE has committed 965,000 towards a proposed centre of excellence for international creativity in Shetland. Mareel is due to open in 2010 as a creative industries centre with a multi-purpose music, cinema, arts and education facility in Lerwick.
Half year measurements show that HIE's ambition for improved productivity among the businesses it supports has been exceeded, and that the Private Sector Earnings Index also shows a better out-turn than targeted 172FTEs have been supported (147 created, 25 retained) paying an average wage of over 25,000.

The agency is confident of meeting its target for assisting social enterprises with their growth plans by the year end, while the number of community groups helped to invest in renewable energy projects is ahead of target at 21 cases in the first six months.

HIE chief executive Sandy Cumming said: "Although these are very testing times for our business community, this is a resilient and innovative region. We have some ambitious projects in the pipeline which will place the Highlands and Islands in an extremely competitive global position as the economy comes out of recession. We will do all we can to support businesses to continue trading during this period so that their skills are retained and can contribute to the region's recovery."


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