Ambitious businesses and social enterprises in the Highlands and Islands are showing increased confidence and positive performance, according to figures compiled by development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).
The organisation’s year-end results show that it enjoyed another successful year in 2013-14, supporting more than 2,000 jobs and meeting or exceeding each of the performance measures it agrees annually with the Scottish Government.
HIE has also launched its three year operating plan for 2014-17. Entitled 'Building our Future', the plan outlines the agency’s focus and invites businesses, communities and organisations across the region to work with HIE to create growth.
In the past year, HIE's grant-in-aid support of £30m to account-managed businesses and social enterprises helped deliver a total investment of £120m.
HIE Chief Executive Alex Paterson said much of the progress achieved had been driven by HIE’s support for local firms.
“The figures show a very strong performance by HIE and our clients in 2013/14,” said Mr Paterson. “Each year we set challenging goals to deliver measurable benefits for the businesses, social enterprises and communities we serve, and to enable the region to contribute to Scotland’s economic growth.
“Every year is different for HIE, and what really stood out for 2013/14 was the part played by local, home grown businesses in every part of the region.
“Over the past few years, we have put a lot of energy into account management – developing close relationships with companies of all sizes that have strong growth potential. That approach paid particular dividends last year, with local firms really helping to drive growth across the Highlands and Islands.
“At the same time, our commitment to community development, much of which also is underpinned by account management, has achieved excellent results, not least by supporting community ownership of assets and encouraging the growth of social enterprises to improve the resilience of some of our most fragile areas.
“There are good signs that we can sustain that performance in future years too. Our latest business panel survey shows high levels of confidence and optimism, with 91% saying they anticipate further growth. That’s up from around 74% just 18 months ago.”
Mr Paterson also highlighted a range of ambitious work carried out in 2013/14. This includes:
- Around 10,000 homes and premises can now access superfast broadband services as a result of the £146m Highlands and Islands project being led by HIE. The highly complex fibre rollout will bring high-speed broadband to 84% of premises in the region by the end of 2016 – four times the number which would have benefited without public sector support.
- HIE is also managing Community Broadband Scotland across the whole country, helping kick-start community-led broadband projects in the hardest-to-reach rural areas. CBS is currently working with 63 communities.
- 150 businesses across the region were helped to develop their international trade activity by HIE in partnership with Scottish Development International (SDI), with HIE's investment of £7m to boost exporting expected to generate an increase in turnover of £29m over three years.
- Under its Strengthening Communities remit, HIE worked with 47 account managed communities, 43 of which delivered increased community benefit.
- Turnover generated in the social economy thanks to HIE interventions was forecast at £3.67m after three years. £2.65m of this total will be delivered through assets owned by communities.
- HIE input of £3m to account managed businesses in fragile areas supported the delivery of 24 projects which are expected to generate an increase in turnover of £11m in some of the most challenging parts of the region.
- HIE continued its programme of providing strategic infrastructure to support business development across the region. Major projects which progressed during the year include the highly ambitious Inverness Campus project, the successful completion of two advance units in the life science Enterprise Area at the Enterprise Park, Forres, and fit out works at the first advance building on the European Marine Science Park at Dunstaffnage in Argyll. Work started on the Lochboisdale Port of Entry Regeneration project . Design works progressed on a number of projects including large advance units at Hatston and Lyness in Orkney, Sandbank in Argyll, and for road access to a planned new business park at Scrabster, Caithness.
HIE's new operating plan, available at www.hie.co.uk/operatingplan shows that, in the coming year, the development agency plans to make a cash investment of £74m in projects and programmes delivering sustainable economic growth.
Chairman, Professor Lorne Crerar, commented: "HIE has, and will continue to have, ambition for the region at the heart of all we do. Realising our ambitions will require new ways of doing things, innovative ideas and, above all, a collaborative approach with partners both in the region and beyond.
"We believe that the future prospects for the region are bright and we invite businesses, communities and organisations across the region to join us in building our future."