HIE highlights vital support for nearly 1700 jobs across the north

HIE Highlights Vital Support For Nearly 1700 Jobs Across The North HIE chairman Lorne Crerar

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) said yesterday investments during 2016/17 helped create or retain 1,688 full-time equivalent jobs. Reporting “year-end numbers”, the economic development quango added it supported steady growth among small and medium-sized enterprises across the region. Annual accounts for the period, showing the agency’s income and expenditure for the 12 months to March 31, 2017, are not expected until later this year.

But HIE, which was recently at the centre of a political battle over the future of its local board, said it had performed strongly. Its job tally includes 169 roles in “fragile” areas, while turnover at supported businesses and social enterprises is forecast to increase by ?120.4million over three years. International sales are expected to grow by ?79.5million over the same period.

HIE said inward investment activity had increased “significantly” during the past year, helping to support 12 projects, while community development activity “continued apace”. Chairman Lorne Crerar added: “It has been another year of encouraging progress for the Highlands and islands.

“The continued oil and gas downturn, pressures on public sector budgets and uncertainties around EU membership have presented many challenges for the region.

“More and more we are seeing these challenges being met with innovation, ambition, entrepreneurship and resilience by the region’s businesses, social enterprises and communities.

“A key part of HIE’s role is to foster those qualities and target investment in initiatives that stimulate and enable growth.

“I am delighted at the contribution the organisation has made over the past year and look forward to continuing to work with our partners, businesses and communities across the region and beyond to build on this in the years ahead.”

Grants from the Scottish Land Fund, administered by HIE and Big Lottery on behalf of the Scottish Government, supported 31 projects across the north during 2016/17. HIE said an innovative community account management programme was helping 47 communities achieve “greater resilience”.

The region’s social economy turnover is forecast to increase by nearly ?5.6million, including ?1.8million from community-owned assets. Other milestones for HIE during 2016/17 included three new buildings opening at Inverness Campus, including the agency’s new headquarters at An Lochran. In Argyll, the new Fairmile Building in Sandbank Business Park, near Dunoon, was formally opened and the European Marine Science Park near Oban secured a number of new tenants.

The year also saw the completion of Dales Voe South in Shetland, a 607ft quay to support growth in decommissioning work, and the installation of all four turbines in the MeyGen tidal-energy project off the Caithness coast. Both projects were supported by HIE. Wave Energy Scotland, a subsidiary of HIE, approved funding worth ?12.4million for 17 technology development projects.

HIE said digital connectivity continued to improve for businesses and households across the region, with the number of premises with access through the HIE-led Digital Scotland superfast broadband project reaching 155,000.

A further 1,400 are now connected through 13 projects supported by Community Broadband Scotland, which is also run by HIE on behalf of the government.

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