Highlands & Islands

HIE-backed businesses 'performed strongly'

Tidal turbine being lowered in Inner Sound Image copyright Atlantis Resources
Image caption The MeyGen tidal project received backing from Highlands and Islands Enterprise

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has said businesses and communities it supported in 2016/17 performed strongly in "uncertain" economic conditions.

The public agency said its investments had helped to create or retain 1,688 full-time equivalent jobs in the region.

HIE works in Argyll, Highlands, Moray, Western Isles and the Northern Isles.

Controversial plans to replace HIE with a national board were abandoned earlier this year.

Announcing its year end results, HIE said the turnover among firms it supports was forecast to increase by £120.4m over the next three years, and international sales by £79.5m.

The agency said milestones in 2016/17, included the opening of three new buildings at its Inverness Campus - An Lòchran, Aurora House and the site's first student accommodation block.

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, and the installation of all four turbines in the MeyGen tidal energy project off the Caithness coast.

'Encouraging progress'

It also approved further investments in the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney and the new Orkney Research and Innovation Campus, a joint venture with the islands' local authority.

Wave Energy Scotland, a subsidiary of HIE, approved a total of £12.4m to 17 technology development projects.

HIE said digital connectivity continued to improve for businesses and households across the region.

The number of premises with access through the HIE-led Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband project reached 155,000.

HIE chairman, Prof Lorne Crerar, said: "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."

In March this year, plans to replace the boards of Scotland's enterprise and training agencies with one national board were abandoned.

Economy Secretary Keith Brown said HIE, Scottish Enterprise and Skills Development Scotland would continue with their own boards.

He also announced that a national strategic board would be set up, to "align the work" of the agencies.

Opposition parties welcomed the news but said the minister had been forced to make a u-turn.

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