Economic development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has reported a successful year of investment and job creation in the region for 2015/16 - the 50th anniversary of its predecessor.
An estimated 855 jobs are expected to be created or retained in the region as a result of HIE’s investments last year, 130 of them in the Outer Hebrides area.
A summary of the organisation’s year-end figures shows turnover among supported businesses and social enterprises in the Outer Hebrides will increase by £4 million as a result of HIE’s investments.
This year has seen the opening of two major infrastructure projects in the Outer Hebrides. The community led Lochboisdale Port of Entry was opened in September in one of the most fragile villages in the Uists. Furthermore, 17 jobs were created following the opening of the Isle of Harris Distillery in Tarbert.
Also, with £2.8m investment from HIE, work will soon commence at the HIE owned site at Breasclete on the west side of Lewis where BASF Callanish Ltd occupies a factory making omega 3 rich fatty acids for use in pharmaceutical and dietary supplements. The company is expanding its operations to take advantage of its continuing global growth. Eighty high quality jobs will be supported and a further 20 jobs created in the life science sector as part of this project in the next three years.
Progress continued to be made in specific sectors such as creative industries, food and drink and tourism. Significant investments in these sectors include £300,000 to Harris Tweed Hebrides for a major expansion project which aims to create up to ten jobs.
The Outer Hebrides’ seven account managed communities continue to gain confidence and move towards sustainability through a number of community developments. HIE funds local development officer posts in North Uist, Barra, Galson, Lochs and Harris.
HIE’s administration of the Scottish Land Fund (SLF) continued to support community land and asset acquisition across Scotland, including the Pairc, Barvas, Gallan Head, Keose, and Carloway Estates this year.
Just over 40 percent of households and businesses in the Outer Hebrides can now access the new high-speed fibre broadband network. Customers can order in a number of areas including Back, Barvas, Garrabost, Shawbost and Stornoway. Latest areas also include parts of Carloway, Callanish and Leverburgh in Harris, bringing the total homes able to access higher broadband speeds to more than 6,000.
The Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband project, being led in the region by HIE, is investing £146m in a new fibre optic infrastructure. The project has seen subsea cables laid to the Outer Hebrides bringing fibre optic capacity to the islands for the first time. Services delivered though new fibre cabinets in local towns and villages will have reached 75% of Outer Hebrides premises by the end of this year.
Rachel Mackenzie, HIE area manager for Outer Hebrides, said: “We are putting a lot of emphasis on account management and relationships with businesses that have growth potential and ambition. Each year we set challenging goals that deliver measurable benefits for those clients, and that enables the region to contribute to Scotland’s economic growth.
“At the same time, our commitment to community development, much of which is also underpinned by account management, has achieved excellent results. Community ownership of land and assets continues to grow, helping to improve the resilience of some of our most fragile areas. There is similar growth among many social enterprises, which helps tackle inequality, create jobs, develop skills and boost the economy.”
“Our role is to foster those qualities and invest in initiatives that stimulate and enable growth. I am delighted we have been able to make such good progress and look forward to working with partners and clients to continue to grow the region’s economy in the years ahead.”
Activities to improve the region’s appeal to young people meanwhile included the extension of ScotGrad , the popular graduate placement programme run in the region by HIE, to include placements with local businesses and social enterprises.
Professor Lorne Crerar, Chairman of HIE, added: “Many of the challenges facing our economy last year remain with us still. Oil prices are still very low. Public sector budgets are under pressure; something that will affect social enterprise in particular. However, a growing resilience, coupled with the innovation and drive across the business sector means that the Highlands and Islands is well placed to meet these challenges, continue to grow and prosper and remain competitive internationally.”