WINTER 2017 | ISSUE 01
CELEBRATING SUCCESS IN THE HIGHLANDS AND ISLANDS
A HEAD FOR HEIGHTS The recently appointed chief executive of Highlands and Islands Enterprise talks about her vision for the region
INSIDER VIEW from the global pharmaceutical company creating high value jobs in a rural economy
ONE MANâ€™S AMBITION
to bring the big music names to the Outer Hebrides
FÀILTE GU AR IRIS ÙR, FÒCAS WELCOME TO OUR NEW FOCUS MAGAZINE In my role as chair of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), I am privileged to spend time with many creative and hard-working people who are dedicated, in a variety of ways, to making a positive difference to our region. These include social entrepreneurs, business people, employees, investors, community leaders and volunteers, and many others, not least the staff of HIE itself. It is always inspiring to hear their stories and share views on how HIE and our partners can best channel our resources to help the Highlands and Islands to flourish and contribute to Scotland’s economic growth. It is these kinds of stories and points of view that this new publication aims to capture and share with a wider audience, going behind the headlines to find out more about what really makes our region’s economy tick. Appropriately, we’re launching this first issue with an interview featuring Charlotte Wright, who was appointed as HIE chief executive in June 2017. Charlotte’s combination of skills, experience and passion for the Highlands and Islands made her an outstanding candidate for this role. Read more about her vision for the agency in her in-depth interview. PAGE 4 During our trip to the Outer Hebrides we bring you tales of inward investment by a global pharmaceutical company, high value jobs and how the islands are leading the way in community land ownership. We also find out why Bernera is a perfect location for a state-of-the-art residential recording studio. PAG The Highlands and Islands has been a pioneer in developing Scotland’s modern aquaculture industry over the past 50 years, and HIE is now encouraging a new wave of innovation that will help maintain that leading role. PAGE 8 Our marine resource is also a major focus of our work to support the region’s contribution to a thriving international energy industry, including cutting edge research and development funded by our subsidiary Wave Energy Scotland. PAGE 12 Read on for lots more stories from across our region, including exciting projects at Inverness Campus; and how 1,000 businesses across the region are influencing regional and national decision-making through the Highlands and Islands Business Panel. I hope you enjoy finding out more about the inspiring people behind the businesses and projects that HIE supports. We’d be delighted to hear your thoughts – contact details can be found on the opposite page.
PROFESSOR LORNE CRERAR Chair of HIE
04 Meet HIE’s new chief executive
08 A thriving aquaculture industry 12 Energy focus - world-leading energy innovation 18 Global investment brings new jobs to the Isle of Lewis 22 One man’s ambition to bring big music names to the Outer Hebrides 26 What’s going on at Inverness Campus?
28 HIE’s business panel: 1,000 voices from the region 32 Island communities lead the way in land ownership 35 Scotland’s first Strengthening Communities conference 36 Forres firm finds new way to retain and attract a young workforce P30
38 Tourism in Argyll and the Islands: going places
CONTACT US Highlands and Islands Enterprise An Lòchran, 10 Inverness Campus, Inverness, IV2 5NA email@example.com +44 (0)1463 245245 hie.co.uk
TO RECEIVE FUTURE ISSUES PLEASE SUBSCRIBE: hie.co.uk/focus 3
If you ask what I hope my legacy as chief executive of HIE will be, you can sum it up as â€˜ambitionâ€™. Ambition for the Highlands and Islands as a whole: ambition for people of every age, but particularly those leaving school and looking to work here.
The recently appointed chief executive of Highlands and Islands Enterprise isn’t one to gaze too often in the rear view mirror.
A HEAD FOR HEIGHTS Although she would be the first to recognise the agency’s key role in transforming the region’s economy over more than 50 years, it’s clear that Charlotte Wright’s vision is fixed firmly on navigating the road ahead. Appointed in June after nine months as interim chief executive, Charlotte makes crystal clear her ambition for the region to benefit fully from the opportunities that its natural assets offer our changing world. “HIE focuses on delivering Scotland’s economic strategy,” she explains, “but to succeed, we need to exploit our ‘place-based’ distinctiveness – the areas in which we have a natural advantage over competing regions in the world.” Renewable energy and aquaculture are among several sectors in which the region excels and has enormous headroom for growth, says Charlotte, if innovation and investment are properly stimulated. But harvesting the advantages that its rugged, often remote landscape holds, and delivering its products and services through increasingly digitised channels to an international marketplace, is challenging. Charlotte’s experience in tackling such challenges, allied with her unwavering passion for the region, were key reasons she was chosen for the job. Raised in Newcastle, Charlotte graduated in English and joined the health service in strategic and capital planning roles. She met her artist husband when they collaborated on a facility for people with mental health issues and together they moved to Fort William. After setting up a business, Charlotte joined HIE in 1997, initially in a business development role. HIE’s unique remit to support both business and community growth was immediately attractive, she says.
“I was hugely impressed by the organisation – its culture, its commitment and its professionalism. One of my roles in Lochaber was Head of Community Development, meeting with inspirational community groups and businesses on my patch. My roles of strategic responsibility have grown since then, but the things I learned, and continue to learn, from listening to and working with people who want to make changes, is fundamentally important in connecting the ‘golden thread’ of successful economic and social development.” During her tenure as interim chief executive, Charlotte steered HIE’s participation in the Scottish Government’s Enterprise and Skills Review. This overarching examination of how Scotland supports the building blocks of economic growth, allowed her to take stock of the strategic demands ahead for HIE. She welcomes the review’s conclusions, including the creation of a national strategic board drawing the bodies responsible for skills and enterprise more closely together to ensure consistency and alignment across the country. Importantly, Charlotte points out that the board of HIE is being retained under the new arrangements, with the freedom to exercise exactly the same range of decision-making powers that it enjoys at present. Speaking 100 days since her permanent appointment, she names connectivity – digital competitiveness – as being front and centre of the strategic challenges facing the Highlands and Islands. HIE is delivering the £146m roll-out of a fibre broadband network, which has already increased access for the region’s premises from 4% to 86% in the past four years.
Innovation is the key to unlock productivity, and that isn’t confined to large scale industries.
That’s quite an achievement, but Charlotte’s attention is on the Scottish Government’s commitment to 100% accessibility: “We want to be as connected as anywhere regardless of our dispersed population, and HIE has a further role in ensuring businesses can leverage the advantages that fast broadband offers through training and tailored support.” Inevitably Brexit poses testing times ahead. “We’re looking both at the short-term opportunities – for instance how we can help tourism operators benefit from the present exchange rate for sterling – and also the longer term. For instance, we’re engaging with businesses to understand how they are reading the situation and planning for the future, particularly during the present time of uncertainty. “Our work helping businesses to trade in international markets has never been more important and we see growth potential particularly in the US. But we’re also focused on the need for resilience especially where issues such as the availability of skilled labour may be a concern.” HIE board visit Papa Westray, Orkney
Infrastructure is also much on Charlotte’s mind. HIE’s flagship projects – such as the Centre for Health Science in Inverness; the Enterprise Park in Forres; and European Marine Science Park in Argyll, together with Inverness Campus – have all attracted high value businesses and jobs. With the region’s place-based advantages in focus, Charlotte and her team are now working to realise the full range of benefits from these investments, while planning the next generation of ambitious new projects that will underpin future growth. “Innovation is the key to unlock productivity,” she says, “and that isn’t confined to large scale industries. We’re seeing community initiatives using income from renewable energy projects in their area to create dynamic businesses that will sustain their communities far into the future. “HIE has some amazingly talented people on its teams. The feedback we get from customers is very positive, but that depends on us continuing to challenge ourselves to be adaptable, flexible and responsive to change.” “If you ask what I hope my legacy as chief executive of HIE will be, you can sum it up as ‘ambition’. Ambition for the Highlands and Islands as a whole: ambition for people of every age, but particularly ambition for those leaving school and looking to work here. Our survey of young people shows an enduringly positive sense of identity with this region and I want them to have the opportunity to get all the rewards here that they might gain elsewhere.” Delivering that ambition should be second nature to Charlotte who says firmly: “When I get to the top of the mountain, all I see is a higher mountain.”
Charlotte chats with Ian Blackford, MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber
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It’s hard to imagine an industry more suited to Scotland, particularly the Highlands and Islands, than aquaculture. And with fifty years in the making, many believe the sector has the potential to double by 2030.
A THRIVING AQUACULTURE INDUSTRY Aquaculture, the farming of fish and shellfish, can bring so much to the table for the Highlands and Islands and beyond: a sustainable protein source to meet growing global demand; a sizeable contribution to the economy; and strong economic and social benefits for remote rural communities. The pure, clean waters around Scotland are among the best in the world for aquaculture, providing the ideal conditions for finfish, shellfish and seaweed to thrive. With an enviable reputation for quality and the rising global demand for sustainable seafood, Scotland is well placed to make the most of the opportunity that lies within its lochs and coastal waters. Not surprisingly, aquaculture already contributes over £1.8bn a year1 to the country’s economy and is particularly important to the Highlands and Islands, where most of Scotland’s aquaculture production takes place, along with much of the processing and supply chain employment. But there’s potential for the aquaculture industry to grow further still over the coming years, with industry research estimating a possible yearly contribution of £3.6bn or more by 20301.
Gael Force Group MD, Stewart Graham and Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity
For the first time, the sector has set out a strategic plan to ensure Scotland capitalises on this burgeoning opportunity, supported at every step of the way by HIE.
Akva Group, Inverness 1
Aquaculture Growth to 2030 report
Thereâ€™s a great future for ambitious, innovative aquaculture businesses in the Highlands and Islands. The region wants them and the industry needs them. ELAINE JAMIESON, HIE
Loch Duart Salmon
ll site and cages
lmon, with Badca
Loch Duart Sa
in the distance
SUPPORTING INDUSTRY DEVELOPMENT
Stewart Graham, managing director of the Gael Force Group, a leading manufacturer and supplier of aquaculture equipment, technology and services, is passionate about making the most of the opportunities aquaculture brings to the region. “With demand for sustainable seafood outstripping supply, aquaculture is set to grow strongly, in a global and Scottish context,” says Stewart.
HIE has long been an advocate for the industry, providing tailored support for many businesses within the sector, including both Gael Force and Shetland Mussels.
Commenting on his recent involvement in driving the Vision 2030 industry strategy initiative, he says: “Through the 2000s up to 2015, I could see this opportunity we had, particularly for small, remote island and rural communities. We have a fantastic product with a minimal environmental impact. The world is demanding the product and salmon is iconic for Scotland. With strategic direction, growth could be immense.” With this in mind, Stewart joined forces with Dennis Overton, chair of Aquascot, and a working group called Vision 2030 set to work. They issued a call to arms to the industry: ‘come with ideas’. The group was well attended by key industry stakeholders, and by autumn 2016 they had produced a detailed strategy, with a vision to almost double the annual economic contribution from Scottish aquaculture by 2030. Among the key recommendations was the creation of an Industry Leadership Group (ILG) to ensure progress was aligned and collaborative. Determined to see the group’s vision realised, Stewart is now co-chair alongside Scottish Sea Farm’s Jim Gallagher. Its membership includes the full spectrum of public and private sector stakeholders, including HIE’s chief executive Charlotte Wright, and Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, as the ministerial lead for the group and a keen supporter of its vision. Also on the group is Michael Tait, managing director of Shetland Mussels, who shares this commitment for change: “It’s a huge opportunity for Scotland and the rewards could be enormous. If all stakeholders address the industry’s challenges, for example around stock health, consent and planning for aquaculture, workforce, and access to finance, we could be world leaders. Everything needs to be aligned and collaborative – and the ILG is an important step.” HIE and Marine Scotland commissioned a report to complement Vision 2030, titled ‘The Value of Aquaculture to Scotland’. Published in June 2017, the report concluded that there’s a sure future in terms of customer demand and scope to grow, due to the growing world population and increasing demand for sustainable protein sources. The report identified many specific opportunities for the Highlands and Islands and, although highlighting the potential barriers to the industry doubling its turnover by 2030, the research anticipates strong positive growth, making it a key priority for HIE. 10
“We’ve championed the aquaculture industry since its inception. Like our predecessor HIDB, we recognise the significant value the sector adds to our regional economy, particularly in our most peripheral areas,” explains HIE’s head of food and drink, Elaine Jamieson. “We support the sector at every level – from working with aquaculture producers and the supply chain to funding innovation activities, carrying out research and active membership of industry groups. There are plenty of challenges to overcome to see the kind of transformational change we need, but we’re determined to support the opportunities we have here.” For the 2030 vision to be realised, there needs to be investment in cutting-edge technologies, and HIE will support that aim, says Elaine. “We have to support companies to invest in innovative research and development (R&D) projects. Businesses might have the ambition, skills and capacity but need support to take risks and try out new technologies. There are lots of early ideas around, but we need to help transform ideas into deployment.” Stewart at Gael Force knows first-hand the difference that HIE can make, after his company recently won its biggest-ever single order for feeding barges from Marine Harvest. “We had financial support from HIE to enable us to invest in developing the new technology that has led to us creating our new SeaFeed system, which is part of this order. This support has been crucial as otherwise we simply couldn’t have made the high-risk R&D investment. This has created an immediate impact for employment in the area. We’re expecting to have recruited an additional 70 people by the end of 2017 – and at least 20 of these new people are as a direct result of this new order. “HIE really understands the industry, its importance and its huge potential. They support us in all sorts of ways, including training, advice and financial intervention. But perhaps the most important support is ensuring the advocacy of the industry strategy and making sure it’s promoted at all levels. This isn’t quantifiable financially but it’s a major benefit.” There is already plenty of innovation happening in the industry. One example is a mussel hatchery project at Scalloway’s NAFC Marine Centre. The project was launched with the Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group (SSMG) and the University of the Highlands and Islands, with co-funding from HIE, the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund.
HOW THE NUMBERS STACK UP… The figures are good – and the potential is sky-high. Here are some of the most important statistics around aquaculture in Scotland. CURRENT: • Estimated to contribute over £1.8bn annually to Scotland’s economy1 • Supports around 12,000 jobs, many in remote and rural areas2
Shetland Mussels boat Pegasus busy harvesting. Image credit: Shetland Mussels/Ben Mullay
VISION FOR 2030: • Annual contribution of £3.6bn1 • 18,000 jobs to be supported by the sector1 1
The project is testing the commercial feasibility of getting Scottish mussels to spawn in a hatchery environment. “We’ve partnered with Spring Bay Seafoods from Tasmania, who successfully produce spat (baby mussels),” says Michael, who is also chairman of SSMG. “But it’s not an exact copy – for example, we have colder conditions, which means ours take longer to grow, so there’s more opportunity for things to go wrong.
Aquaculture Growth to 2030 report, October 2016 The Value of Aquaculture to Scotland report, June 2017
“Bryce Daly of Spring Bay Seafood recently visited to help us and confirmed that we have the right equipment and the right people in place – and we’ve learnt a lot over the first year. We’re going to take stock over winter and we’re optimistic we can have proven parameters in place by the end of the second year.” Securing the right skills for the industry, including the supply chain, is critical. HIE is currently working with Skills Development Scotland to carry out research into this. “We have commissioned a review of skills in the aquaculture sector in Scotland, including the supply chain,” says Elaine. “This will explore the scale and composition of the workforce, the skills requirement and the skills pipeline that feeds it. We will use this research to inform the development of future workforce planning strategies.” BOOSTING REMOTE AND RURAL COMMUNITIES Aquaculture is geographically dispersed and provides distinct regional opportunities for good-quality, year-round employment, particularly in remote and rural areas. ‘The Value of Aquaculture to Scotland’ report highlights some of the key social and community impacts as including: • Increased local populations and improved age structures • Extra employment and income • New and enhanced skills with sustainable employment • More families in rural communities with more children in small schools • The roles staff and their families play in voluntary activities • The survival of small local businesses LOOKING AHEAD
EUROPEAN MARINE SCIENCE PARK Located near Oban on the beautiful west coast of Scotland, the European Marine Science Park (EMSP) provides a cutting-edge space for marine-based businesses and researchers to thrive. Developed by HIE, the EMSP aims to foster a spirit of collaboration, community and entrepreneurship among the cluster of specialist organisations based there. Some of the pioneering work carried out at EMSP is of significant importance to the aquaculture industry both nationally and internationally. Globally renowned marine research experts such as Lallemand Aquapharm and SAMS Research Services are based in the EMSP, alongside leading aquaculture manufacturers and suppliers including Fusion Marine and OTAQ. Organisations based at EMSP benefit from close proximity to the Scottish Association of Marine Science (SAMS), one of the world’s foremost marine science and oceanographic institutes. This provides ready access to high-quality, specialist skills, with innovative, globally renowned courses like the Aquaculture, Environment and Society MSc on offer.
“There’s a great future for ambitious, innovative aquaculture businesses in the Highlands and Islands. The region wants them and the industry needs them,” sums up Jamieson.
“Our key focus for EMSP is to develop the existing cluster of companies by encouraging collaboration and attracting other businesses with synergetic interests,” says HIE’s senior development manager Morag Goodfellow.
With global demand for high-quality, sustainable seafood growing year on year, the opportunities for Scotland’s aquaculture sector are clear. The emergence of the ILG, combined with the expert resource at the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre and a supportive public sector, is a strong step towards an aligned, vibrant future for the aquaculture sector.
“There are excellent opportunities for existing and complementary businesses to reap the benefits of shared skills and knowledge and take advantage of the extensive scientific and marine facilities here.”
ENERGY FOCUS PAGES 12 -17
The growing reputation of the Highlands and Islands as a global leader in the energy sector is a key asset for the region, and for Scotland.
21ST CENTURY ENERGY CAPITAL OF THE WORLD? Audrey MacIver, HIE’s director of energy and low carbon
It’s evidenced most obviously by the ambitious projects being delivered in the offshore renewables (wave, tidal and offshore wind) sector, where Scotland maintains a strong lead in both Research and Development (R&D) and commercial deployment. Geographically the size of Belgium but distant from the UK’s key energy generators, the region rose to the challenge of electrification in the 1940s and 50s. The creation of hydro dams on many of the area’s rivers tested engineering skills and community relations to their limits but transformed the lives of its residents. “I think that’s when the region really gained confidence in its ability to do things differently and to overcome physical barriers because we learned very directly, the benefits that ambition and change can deliver,” says Audrey MacIver, director of energy and low carbon at HIE. “It was followed by the discovery of oil and gas under the North Sea which provided, and still provides, international expertise directly through jobs and supply chain services.” From its inception in 1965 HIE has fostered and developed the region’s burgeoning energy ambitions, building on the natural resources, business capabilities and unique infrastructure that a generation of oil and gas involvement has developed.
We want the region to be seen as a centre of excellence for communities worldwide looking to create their own independent low-carbon energy supply.
HIE’s sector strategy seized on the realisation that the region’s natural advantages for hydro electricity are matched by those for wind, wave and tidal power – all vital for the world’s low carbon future. The development agency is also actively encouraging innovators in associated disciplines such as transmission; distribution; storage and energy efficiency as well as mixed energy solutions, to come to the region. The potential for technical installations to be powered by floating wind; hydrogen to be used as fuel and for storage; and the creation of ‘circular economies’ where benefits are sought throughout the growth and decline of an industry, are all promising proposals currently being discussed by an energy community encouraged to be collaborative.
“Off-grid local community energy systems have a huge amount to offer,” says Audrey. “Apart from the grid connection charges which are ultimately passed to the customer, national climate change commitments require coal-burning generators such as Longannet to be taken out of service. Where feasible, more dispersed, local solutions will become attractive.”
One of the largest private investments in Scotland’s infrastructure – the £2.6bn Beatrice Offshore Windfarm is moving swiftly towards deployment in the Outer Moray Firth by 2019, delivering worldwide learning opportunities from large scale generation in challenging waters.
Audrey explains: “We want the region to be seen worldwide as a centre of excellence for communities seeking to create their own independent low-carbon energy supply.”
The island of Eigg has been a role model in this area. Residents had no access to power from the grid and depended on diesel generators until 2008 when they installed an integrated wind, solar and hydro energy system that delivers 90% of their energy provision.
The European Marine Energy Centre, at which more wave and tidal turbine devices have been trialled than at any other site in the world, is now leading on tidal energy conversion to hydrogen.
The readiness of HIE to join with others and support the high-risk business of pre-commercial energy innovation is delivering good jobs; community benefits and now, significant money flowing back into the region.
And the region’s Dales Voe yard this year won a contract to decommission the Buchan Alpha oil rig – an unequivocal bid to compete for the estimated £17.6bn decommissioning work set to come on-stream from the UK’s Continental Shelf.
“Compared to other countries and regions, our agencies are compact and joined up. There is no wrong door for anyone enquiring about setting up here. We can connect businesses with the right contacts quickly and easily and we 100% embrace international collaboration.
These examples serve to demonstrate, says Audrey, the appetite in the region to be competitive in every energy discipline. And where constraints do exist, innovative solutions are developed. For instance, the high cost for developers of connecting to the grid has spurred interest in local energy solutions.
“In an era when our planet literally depends on creating sustainable generation, distribution, efficiency and decommissioning solutions, there is no more exciting place for energy operators to be right now than the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.”
ENERGY FOCUS What goes up must come down, and in the case of North Sea oil rigs, that process will cost an estimated £17bn in the next 10 years, according to Oil & Gas UK.
REDUNDANT RIGS OFFER A LUCRATIVE FUTURE
MAKING TIDAL ENERGY A REALITY
Buchan Alpha at Dales Voe, Shetland
The region’s strategy is paying off for the Dales Voe yard in Shetland. Already well suited to the work, an £11.95m HIE-backed quay upgrade has helped to make Dales Voe the obvious place for decommissioning partnership Veolia and Peterson to dismantle the Buchan Alpha rig this year. The job is already underway and the port is eyeing up further contract wins. Sandra Laurenson, chief executive of Lerwick Port Authority in Shetland says: “There is huge competition for decommissioning work but we have great natural advantages when it comes to the Northern and Central North Sea installations. On top of these, thanks to a shared strategy and financial support from HIE and the Scottish Government, we have a Scottish solution with a site that can compete for the largest decommissioning projects. “Buchan Alpha is a great contract for Lerwick and we know we can build on this to be more ambitious still with the natural water depth to suit different decommissioning methods.” Both UK and Scottish governments have set out the ambition to establish an ultra-deep water quayside which would enable the largest heavy lift decommissioning vessels to come ‘alongside’ and further drive down the cost of decommissioning. HIE is working hard with both Governments to promote the natural advantages of siting that facility in the Highlands and Islands.
Three years ago MeyGen Ltd secured a funding package for the first phase of its ground-breaking 398MW tidal array project in the Pentland Firth.
The Highlands and Islands is maintaining its world-lead in tidal energy development with two ground-breaking projects now generating significant power. In 2016, Nova Innovation, an international leader in tidal energy generation, became the first in the world to deploy a fully operational, grid-connected offshore tidal array by installing three 100kW turbines in the Bluemull Sound off Shetland. It was followed swiftly by another global record. Phase 1A of what will be the largest tidal stream project in the world so far – the 398MW Meygen tidal array - is now in operation in the Pentland Firth between the Orkney Islands and mainland Scotland. Already its first four 1.5MW turbines supply enough energy to power 2,600 homes. A turbine being installed at the Meygen project site
As part of the project’s funding syndicate, HIE played a key role in getting this significant infrastructure project off the ground. Tim Cornelius, chief executive of MeyGen developer Atlantis Resources says: “Working with our colleagues in the project funding syndicate has brought tidal power generation one step closer to commercialisation and, for Scotland in particular, paved the way for future private sector investment in projects of this kind. “Meygen has also galvanised the local supply chain by tapping into the region’s longstanding expertise in offshore energy developments. We are proud to be working with the team at HIE to help secure Scotland’s energy future.” MeyGen Phase 1A made headlines in September 2017 when it set a new world record for monthly production from a tidal stream power station of over 800MWh. The total production since launch in 2016 is now over 2.6GWh.
The ultimate energy solution – harvesting power from the ocean’s waves – is drawing close to a commercial reality in the Highlands and Islands.
LEADING THE WORLD TO WAVE ENERGY Capturing the long ‘fetch’ from the Atlantic, the waters around the Highlands and Islands are ideally suited to wave power. The region saw a surge of interest in the early 2000s when high oil prices drove venture capitalists to hope devices could be quickly deployed. They couldn’t. The complexity of the challenge made it difficult for any single developer to achieve commercialisation with one device. By 2014, two of the world’s leading wave developers – both based in Edinburgh with devices tested at European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney – went into administration. Many believed that Scotland’s potential for wave energy would prove too difficult to realise. That’s why the Scottish Government and HIE, driven by their commitment to a low carbon future, proposed a whole new approach. In 2014 they created Wave Energy Scotland (WES) to provide funding to help technology developers invent the best possible components for every aspect of wave energy generation. WES managing director Tim Hurst (pictured) explains: “We identified the fundamental components needed for any wave device to succeed and have challenged designers to create, test and prove that their products are the optimal solution for each of these generic processes.” Using an innovative procurement model, successful projects are awarded up to 100% funding for incremental competitive stages of product development, but only if they satisfy WES of the potential effectiveness of their design at the completion of each stage.
Innovators own 100% of arising intellectual property but must make it available on the open market to other developers. “Wave power will be good for Scotland no matter where it’s being developed,” says Tim, “we are still leading the world in terms of our strategic approach, due in part to those early movers like Pelamis and Aquamarine from which we learned so much.” Tim also cites the compelling advantages the Highlands and Islands has over other regions: • • • • • •
The biggest wave resource in Europe Best academic research Offshore experience from the oil and gas industry Strong political will A history of engineering excellence Established local supply chain
“Every other competitor is lacking in at least two of those elements,” he says. All WES project streams are now underway and running to schedule. So far the agency has awarded £25.3m of Scottish Government funding. It’s budgeting for a further £10m every year until the programme completes in 2021, when Tim and his team of renewable energy specialists will support programme participants, who are based across 11 countries, through device testing and commercialisation. The programme is now ready to engage with a significant manufacturer of appropriate scale and knowledge to begin plans for production. “Our approach is one of the most advanced in the world,” says Tim, “We are de-risking the exploration of wave energy by testing every part in real environments before committing full-scale investment. We believe it’ll prove the tipping point between experimentation and commercialisation on a global scale, and we welcome the international interest our programme attracts.”
ENERGY FOCUS The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) was set up in 2003 and remains the world’s only accredited open-sea test facility for wave and tidal energy converters.
EMEC: MOVING UP THE KNOWLEDGE CHAIN TO A NEW FUTURE The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) was set up in 2003 to provide open sea test facilities for companies developing devices to convert wave and tidal power into electricity.
“Thankfully HIE, as well as our local authority and the Scottish Government, have shown continued support for EMEC and for developing this industry, and that is already paying dividends.”
Based in the Orkney Islands, which boasts some of the most challenging tidal flows and wave conditions in Europe, EMEC has to date tested some 30 technologies from 19 different developers.
The islands are now home to the most experienced marine energy supply chain in the world, delivering knowledge and services that are in demand worldwide. An economic impact assessment, commissioned by HIE, estimates that EMEC has generated a gross value added to the UK economy of £249.6 million, with 3,801 job years so far.
EMEC is also currently involved in 24 live R&D projects, totalling around €172m of funding, including projects designed to overcome local grid constraints by generating hydrogen. Essentially, EMEC is now the global ‘go to’ facility for the marine energy industry. Demand for its testing berths and consultancy services is higher than ever, however the uncertainty for its customers around Brexit is frustrating for EMEC managing director Neil Kermode. “The main issue is the unknowns around Brexit, particularly given that the European Union is currently putting marine energy at the top of its agenda.
Neil explains: “The economic benefits accrued in developing the test centre give an insight into what could be achieved if we keep working hard at this. We have an opportunity to lead the world, and the commitments set out in the Scottish Government’s draft Energy Strategy indicate Scotland has the appetite to make that happen.”
We have an opportunity to lead the world, and the commitments set out in the Scottish Government’s draft Energy Strategy indicate Scotland has the appetite to make that happen.
Wello Oy’s Penguin wave energy converter being deployed at EMEC
e Be ion of th
A lot has changed since Tom Johnston introduced the Scottish Hydro Electric Development Act in 1943 bringing electricity generation to the Highlands and Islands through hydro power.
SSE: INVESTED IN THE HIGHLANDS AND ISLANDS Set up originally as the North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board to develop hydro power stations and power lines in the Highlands and Islands, SSE now has energy generation assets throughout the UK; 7.7 million customers; and a networks business transmitting and distributing energy – Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks. One thing hasn’t changed though; SSE’s ongoing commitment to the potential of innovative energy projects in the Highlands and Islands, for instance… •
Investment - last year SSE, together with project partners Copenhagen Infrastructure Partnership and Red Rock Power Limited, reached a Financial Investment Decision for Beatrice Offshore Windfarm Limited (BOWL). At £2.6bn the cost is nearly twice that of the recently completed Queensferry Crossing across the Firth of Forth. Sited 13km off the coast of Caithness the project will create up to 90 jobs throughout its operational life and see 84, 7MW turbines generate enough energy to power 450,000 homes.
Supply chain - BOWL is providing opportunities for the region’s people and businesses, with locations including Arnish, Nigg, Invergordon and Wick involved in the assembly, construction, and operations and maintenance of the wind farm.
Procurement - SSE’s diverse projects range from wind farms to installing new power lines, and its Open4Business portal has been part of its success.
Open4Business was created in 2012 to provide local businesses with a simple and free way of finding out about supply chain opportunities in the region. Since its launch, Open4Business has awarded over £174m of contracts, with over £76m going to companies in the Highlands and Islands.
Communities - SSE recognises the importance that communities play in the success of the region and is an active contributor to local activities. In the last 15 years SSE funds have distributed more than £13m to over 1,000 community initiatives including visitor centres, mountain rescue teams, clubs and societies.
How a successful pharmaceutical company based in the Outer Hebrides challenges all preconceptions. In conversation with Chris Scarrott, Site Manager of BASF Pharma (Callanish) Ltd.
CONTRASTS, COMMITMENT AND CAREERS When you travel west from Stornoway to visit BASF Pharma (Callanish) Ltd in the village of Breasclete, your journey is a relatively short one, but the expansive, open landscape gives much to think about. The ancient standing stones and the drying peat stacks contrast sharply with the towering wind turbines and mobile phone masts. And as you pass old crofts and villages, you eventually crest one rise on the undulating road and there ahead lies arguably the biggest contrast of them all: the grey, white and red-brown buildings of the pharmaceutical factory. As you arrive, you sense that these premises and the air of quiet efficiency that surrounds them would not be out of place on a life sciences campus in Oxford or Vancouver. BASF Pharma (Callanish) Ltd is a subsidiary of the BASF Group – the world’s largest diversified chemical company headquartered in Germany. The expert team based at the Breasclete factory produces highly purified omega-3 rich fatty acids. Using sustainable oil supplies and patented processing technology, the high-quality products manufactured here on the west coast of Lewis are exported around the world for use in pharmaceutical and dietary supplements.
As Chris Scarrott, site manager of BASF Pharma (Callanish) Ltd, explained, the business is set for further growth. “From a business perspective, it is still very young. It’s on an upward curve from its R&D beginnings, but there is a lot to do to make the place more systematic, more methodical – as we mature both as a workforce and as an organisation. But that’s all really good and exciting, and it’s set against a backdrop of some excellent business opportunities.” Chris moved to the Outer Hebrides in early 2016, four months after he first took up the site manager’s post. It was a major change in direction for the highly experienced, senior corporate executive. “I’m a mechanical engineer by first degree and my first job was offshore in the North Sea. I worked in lots of different areas, but some of the most exciting stuff was working with saturation diving systems. I spent a few years there and then left to join the first of two companies that I worked with for the next 30 years. “The first was a French steelmaking company with a plant in the West Midlands, but with a global remit. I was appointed as a very young managing director back in 1993 and then got asked to take on a global role, which included looking after South Africa, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. “When I moved on from there, I joined a French starch derivative company. I started as UK MD and then moved on to managing several global operations. That role took me to France, China and India to name just a few destinations. So before I came to Lewis, I’d spent much of my working life travelling long haul, particularly in the early 2000s, when I was doing something like 30 long haul trips and 30 short haul trips a year. It was completely exhausting.”
I came here expecting a slower pace of life and it’s not like that at all. It’s been non-stop. 18
Pictured: Chris Scarrott
A’ TOGAIL TREÒRAICHE GU CRUINNEIL Tha BASF Pharma (Callanish) Ltd a’ cumail cosnadh dha 70 luchd-obrach air taobh siar Eilean Leòdhais. Tha BASF air fàs mòr a thoirt air an ionad bhon ghabh iad thairis e ann an 2012. Tha e an diugh air aithneachadh mar prìomh bhuidheann air feadh an t-saoghal ann a bhith a’ dèanamh ‘pure omega-3 fatty acids’ a thathas a’ reic eadar-nàiseanta airson roinnean leigheasail agus beathachaidh. Mar mhanaidsear làraich BASF, thuirt Chris Scarrott: “Tha sinn a’ leantainn a bhith a’ cur airgead an sàs nar dòighean obrach agus tha HIE a’ cur airgead-seilbh dhan làraich, a’ gabhail a-steach am batharthaigh ùr, dealbhaichte airson iarratas ar luchd-ceannachd a choileanadh.”
BASF acquired Equateq Ltd and its site in Breasclete in 2012. BASF Pharma (Callanish) Ltd, which employs more than 70 people, was established to run the operation and is part of the Pharma Ingredients and Services unit of BASF’s Nutrition and Health division. The Isle of Lewis plant has been operating for more than 20 years as a dedicated lipid development plant. Today, it is a global leader in the manufacture of very pure omega-3 fatty acids for use in the development of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) for applications in the pharmaceutical and clinical nutrition sectors. “We are fortunate to have an excellent team here,” explains Chris. “They are very committed. Our technical process is highly specialised; probably unique in terms of the methodology that we use to create the up to 99% pure omega-3 we manufacture. What’s more, the application of the product is also very specific. It’s an API and that means that when a drug manufacturer buys the product, they buy it for a specific treatment. It’s normally a prescribed drug, not an over-thecounter drug, and it’s prescribed for specific conditions. One of the main applications is to treat cardiovascular conditions. “This of course means our customers have very demanding quality standards that we need to meet. We continue to invest in the technical process, and HIE, our landlords, have continued to invest in the site including the new warehouse. The warehouse had to be a Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) facility because when you manufacture an API, you need to store it in highly controlled conditions and that includes temperature, humidity and security. “I hadn’t come across HIE before I came here, but everything I’ve learnt about them so far shows they are absolutely fundamental to the success of this operation. It is a great partnership. In such an isolated, geographically remote area as this, you need that level of support. The team at HIE has been supportive in everything from technology improvements, all the way through to product innovation and site development. We both want to create sustainable long-term employment for the Outer Hebrides.”
sclete, BASF, Brea
Isle of Lewi
Chris has now been living and working on the Isle of Lewis for 18 months, and is clearly focused on the opportunities and challenges that presents – both for himself and the business. “We are certainly looking to build head count, but with the right people, with the right skill sets and right qualifications. If we find outstanding people, we generally try to bring them in however the other thing we’re hoping to do is to bring in apprentices through an accredited scheme. And that could add somewhere between three and eight people to the operation. If we do that, then we will benefit the local community because we will hopefully employ and develop local people. We develop them. Give them new skills. And we can tailor them to the jobs and the jobs to them, which means that you’ve got a marriage between the employee and the company. I’m excited about that, because the idea of actually giving something back to the local community and finding jobs for local people has got to be good. “On a personal note, I’ve found life here very different to what I expected. Time just seems to disappear very quickly. There are never enough hours in the day. I came here expecting a slower pace of life and it’s not like that at all. It’s been non-stop. “We live in a very remote village, but it’s a really good little community. People help each other and mix in. We were fortunate to find the right property in the right place. I think we enjoy the splendid isolation on the one hand, and then on the other hand we’ve got a community where people want to go out of their way to help. That’s my impression of the island: if you’re in need, they will always help. If you want to be left alone, they’ll leave you alone. In truth, I feel very privileged to be able to work and live here on the island.”
HIE BACKING TO SECURE FUTURE GROWTH
As the owner of the BASF Pharma (Callanish) Ltd site in Breasclete, HIE recently invested £2.8m to create a new warehouse and car park extension for its ambitious tenant. With the facility having reached full capacity in 2016, the new warehouse will help BASF Pharma (Callanish) Ltd service high market demand for its products. As it expands its operations internationally, it is expected to create more jobs over the next few years, and additional space in the car park will accommodate the increase in staff numbers. HIE has worked with BASF Pharma (Callanish) Ltd and its predecessor Equateq over many years to establish and grow this important business. Chris says: “The new warehouse facility was designed and constructed in collaboration with HIE. “We are thrilled with the facility and proud to have worked with HIE to achieve its success. It is an important building to support the growth required to create a truly sustainable operation.” Rachel Mackenzie, area manger – Outer Hebrides, adds: “At HIE, we have two different relationships with BASF Pharma (Callanish) Ltd. We have a strategic relationship and a landlord/tenant relationship. Our aim is to provide the support necessary for long-term success, and our recent investment in the warehouse demonstrates this. “BASF Pharma (Callanish) Ltd is an exemplar of what can be achieved in a rural fragile economy, providing not only jobs, but real careers to more than 70 people on the west coast of Lewis. These are highly specialised, highly sought after jobs, and it just shows you what can be achieved in rural areas with the right support.”
LOCAL OPPORTUNITIES, GLOBAL CAREERS With a workforce of over 70, and the vast majority of them coming from the Isle of Lewis, BASF Pharma (Callanish) Ltd is now one of the leading employers on the island. By offering high-quality jobs to local young people, the business is raising the career expectations of a generation. Focus talked to two of the current team: 25 year-old Eilidh Morrison, a Quality Assurance Officer, who has been with the company since 2011; and 24 year-old Eilidh Johnstone, a Quality Assurance Technician who joined BASF in 2015. L-R: Eilidh Morrison and Eilidh Johnstone outside BASF, Breasclete, Isle of Lewis
“I work as a quality assurance officer. Our job is to make sure that the product is fit and safe for use. A lot of my job is reviewing records, performing inspections, and also participating in customer and supplier audits to make sure we’re complying with all the guidelines and regulations.
“I graduated from Glasgow University in 2015 with a degree in Physiology. My family are from here, so I just came back home to figure out what to do. I went to Careers Scotland because I wasn’t really sure what direction to go in, and the advisor actually had an advert from BASF in front of him for a quality technician post, and he said, ‘I think you should apply for it. It wouldn’t do any harm’. They asked for a life science degree, which is what I had, so I applied. Two weeks later I had an interview and two weeks after that I started!
“I couldn’t go to university because my mum was ill, so I had to stay at home. Being here and being close to family has always been really important to me. When I left school I had a couple of jobs, and also started studying chemistry through the Open University. Then I saw the opportunity here and I thought, ‘Oh, this fits really well. I’ll put in a CV and see how I get on’. “There was great support when I started because I didn’t have a pharmaceutical background, there was lots of on-the-job training which was really good. Starting off as a quality control technician was a great opportunity to learn more about what we did here and why what we make is important in terms of people’s health. And then moving to QA gave me a better understanding of how that fits in with the market. With all the training we do here, you can definitely develop if you want to – and the company continues to support my Open University studies too. “You also get opportunities to go to other departments and learn how things work. I’ve been to Norway on various projects and next month I’m off to Germany to do a course on validation and a course on quality risk management. “As the site expands, so do our horizons. It means we’re getting more opportunities to go away and learn. This definitely feels like a career, which is really good. It’s amazing to think that we are selling to all these countries throughout the world from this site right here on the Isle of Lewis.”
“When I came for my interview, I was really surprised by the size of the operation. I didn’t know there was a lab over here. And I certainly wasn’t expecting anything of the calibre that we have. So it was a little bit intimidating at first, but everyone is so welcoming and they all understand that it’s going to take you time to adjust. “Now, I love it. I think it’s great. To be honest, at the beginning I thought this might be temporary, I certainly had no real intention of it being a permanent thing, or one that could give me a real career. But since I’ve been here I’ve settled in so well and I really enjoy what I do. I’ve built a life here, and made many friends, so it’s very much a long-term option. Like I said to my mum, it feels like winning the lottery, because I’m living at home and I’ve got a really good job doing something I actually want to do. It was very fortunate that the opportunity came along almost as soon as I came back to the island.”
A new high-quality, residential music studio in the Outer Hebrides is set to capitalise on its scenic and remote location as a unique selling point to attract both UK and international recording artists.
BIG STARS, BIG SKIES, BIG AMBITIONS The island of Great Bernera sits just off the west coast of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Connected to Lewis by a short white bridge built in 1957, Bernera (as it is known locally) has a rich history dating back to the Iron Age and beyond. On the south-east edge of the island lies the village of Kirkibost, the first planned crofting township in the Outer Hebrides. Here, beside the sheltered pier, the sounds of rock and roll are breathing life back into an old fish processing factory: the island has a new song to sing. A long-held dream of Pete Fletcher, who moved north from Nottingham to the Isle of Lewis with his wife and two children in 2015, Black Bay Studio aims to attract world-class recording artists to Kirkibost and the Outer Hebrides. Already a producer with a proven track record in the UK music industry, Pete believes his studio management and production experience, combined with an impressive industry contact book, can help him to make Great Bernera one of the most exclusive music recording destinations in the UK. Accommodated in a refurbished fish processing factory, with stunning coastal views north over the water, the new venture has been supported by a grant of £71,552 from HIE with match funding also coming from the EU LEADER programme. The £262,360 project has seen the internal refurbishment of the former crab processing plant into a high-quality recording facility with accommodation on-site for visiting artists.
In the summer of 2017, the first bands arrived at the studios and got down to the business of making and recording music. But it has taken some time to get to this point. As Pete explains: “I had a studio in Nottingham, but I always wanted to have a residential studio; somewhere that bands can come to stay and focus on an album, focus on their recording. Somewhere out of the city. And literally my plan A, as we called it, was to have a studio by the sea. “Then one day my wife saw a great job opportunity in Stornoway and applied for it. After she got offered the job, we came up together as a family to look around. It was when we were looking at properties, and the other opportunities happening here, that I thought maybe this is somewhere I could make my idea of the studio happen too. We also explored the beaches with the children, who were six and nine at the time, and that was it really for them. We were sold.” That was just the beginning for Pete and his family. Finding the right property for the studio, getting the finance in place, and completing the studio works would take the best part of the next two years. “Yes, there were times when it felt like the whole project was not going to happen,” admits Pete. “We just had to take one step at a time. We had to buy the building before we had everything planned. So it was a bit of a leap of faith. I mean, at the end of the day, we could have ended up with an empty crab factory, but I thought I need to do this, so let’s get the building and we’ll work the rest out.” And he did. Now up and running, it is anticipated the business will employ up to five people within three years, and will also deliver a range of training opportunities for young people in areas such as sound engineering and studio management.
Pictured: Pete Fletcher
STIÙIDIO CIÙIL ÙR ANN AN LEÒDHAS Tha stiùidio ciùil ùr, le àiteachan-fuirich, sna h-Eileanan an Iar an dòchas luchd-ciùil Breatannach agus eadar-nàiseanta a tharraing chun a’ ghoireis aca a tha suidhichte air làrach air leth brèagha agus a tha uidheamaichte le teicneòlas barraichte is fìor ghoireasach. Chaidh Black Bay Studios a stèidheachadh le Pete Fletcher, a thàinig a Leòdhas à Nottingham còmhla ris a theaghlach. Thathar an dùil gun toir an gnothachas cosnadh do suas ri còignear dhaoine taobh a-staigh trì bliadhna, agus gum faigh daoine òga san sgìre cothroman trèanaidh ann an sgilean leithid innleadaireachd-fuaime no stiùireadh stiùidio. Thuirt e: “Gus luchd-ciùil ainmeil a thàladh, dh’fheumadh an stiùidio fhèin a bhith fìor shònraichte. Tha sinn suidhichte ann an àite air leth brèagha, agus tha na goireasan clàraidh is teicnigeach againn a-nis san ionad ùr seo.”
To attract major artists, the studio needed to be something special. We have a superb location, and now we have the technical recording set-up required too. It’s been hard work getting to this point but, with the excellent support and encouragement from HIE and LEADER, we got there, and I’m delighted. 23
Black Bay Studio (see previous pages)
“I do guest lecturing and industry training, and I hope that here at Black Bay, we can provide lots of opportunities for young people to come and work and learn. So we will definitely be looking to bring in apprentices, but there’s also likely to be a couple of roles beyond that for more experienced engineers. “You see, there are two parts to the business: mixing and mastering files that are sent to us, and working with the bands that come to record. The mastering side of the business is growing and we’re going to need more people. Possibly apprentices that we’ve trained or it could be graduates coming back to the island. Or we may have to recruit people from further afield and bring them here. But all of those are options for us. The nice thing about hiring local people, or bringing someone back home to the island, is that they know what life is like here. They know the challenges and the attractions and, if they want to be here, they know what’s involved. “Certainly the quality of life here is amazing. The kids are surfing, mountain biking, sailing and canoeing: there are so many superb opportunities and amazing access to all of these extracurricular activities, far more than in the city. The challenges I guess are the same in moving into any rural community from a big city, but that also makes it an interesting time for all of us.” And it is the unique character of the Outer Hebrides that Pete believes will be one of the key factors in attracting world-class artists to record at Black Bay Studio. As he explains, the relative isolation can be an advantage in the creative process. “The key thing is where we are. The big open views we have across the water are really quite special. Most recording studios don’t even have natural light, so if you have natural light in a studio, then you write it in big letters on the homepage of your website. And then there’s the idea of just getting away from everything and being able to focus on something that’s actually quite important creatively. If you’re in a band this is something that you may only do once in your career, but certainly not more than once a year. And so, to be able to really indulge in that in a residential setting on a remote island is a major attraction.”
John Macdonald, Black Bay’s account manager from HIE’s area team in the Outer Hebrides, agrees that the location will be a major selling point, but one which needs to be promoted well and in the right places. He says: “A key part of the future success of Black Bay is the anticipated inclusion of the studio in the global directory of world-class recording facilities of this type. Known as Miloco, the directory is the industry bible for studio selection from Morocco to Thailand. “At the moment there are no listed facilities in Scotland, and less than a handful in the UK. It is Pete’s standing and credibility within the industry that make a listing a possibility for Black Bay Studio and it will provide a platform to help the studio attract some of the world’s top recording acts.” And as Pete reiterated, that is the goal – both short term and long term – to make the Outer Hebrides one of the world’s most renowned recording destinations. “My ambition is to increase the number of bands coming, but more importantly the type of bands that are choosing to come here. We want to be working with some of the top tier acts in the world. Which is why Black Bay Studio needs to be something really, really special.”
Tamzene performing at XpoNorth 2017
IAIN HAMILTON, Head of creative industries, HIE Creative industries includes film, design, music, publishing, crafts and architecture. The sector employs an estimated 4,000 people in the Highlands and Islands, with a total GVA of £739m. Largely sole traders or small companies, these talented individuals and teams capitalise on the region’s natural advantages. They draw on the sense of place, landscape, heritage, colours and sounds of the region to create an authentic global product and either compete or work with large international firms. At HIE we target our support in a way that enables talent to thrive. One example is 20-year-old singer/songwriter Tamzene, whose success will always be traced back to the Highlands and Islands. Tamzene was the first signing of a new record label started by the Belladrum Festival with the help of an innovation grant from HIE. We’re also supporting the ambition of Pete Fletcher of Black Bay Studio (see previous pages) to attract internationally renowned artists by combining his expertise with the inspirational location of Great Bernera. A highlight of the creative industries calendar is XpoNorth, Scotland’s leading creative industries conference and showcase. This HIE-funded annual event brings together international industry insiders with aspiring musicians, film-makers, designers, game developers, writers and publishers. New networks and connections are made at XpoNorth every year and this leads to growth in the sector, which in turn supports growth in other sectors. Going forward we need to foster the enthusiasm of school pupils and students to pursue careers in creative industries, particularly in the digital developments. Ensuring everyone can experience the richness of the sector will inspire the region’s next generation of talented and creative individuals.
Inverness Campus was designed as a unique place to work, live and learn, here is a selection of what’s already going on:
INVERNESS COLLEGE UHI
Less than three years since Inverness Campus was officially opened, the 215-acre enterprise park is well on its way to realising HIE’s vision to create a significant economic driver for the region. Since opening to the public in May 2015, six building developments have been completed, and five high calibre businesses are already benefiting from the excellent location and world-class office, research and education facilities. By 2020 HIE anticipates that there will be a further four new workplaces. With over 600 people working at the Campus and strong links to the NHS, the vision for it to be a collaborative site with a particular focus on life sciences is fast becoming a reality. With over 300 accommodation units, the site is also now a place where students and visitors can live and stay. The Campus is becoming a favourite destination for the general public looking to enjoy the quality environment for leisure purposes. Here is a snapshot of the people and organisations based here.
A unique institution, offering both further and higher education, a growing research capacity and progression routes which mean a young person can come and do their Highers but leave with a PhD. “We will play a key role in the development of Inverness and the Highlands and as a hub for business, academic and research expertise and knowledge, I can’t think of a better location than Inverness Campus to do this from.” PROFESSOR CHRISTOPHER O’NEIL Principal
AURORA HOUSE ASEPTIUM
AQUA PHARMA Aseptium is an innovative R&D company that develops medical decontamination equipment.
“The Campus has opened up incredible opportunities for sharing knowledge, skills and facilities. With so many experts in the vicinity, we can tap into very broad expertise and build relationships on a really personal level.” PAWEL DE STERNBERG STOJALOWSKI Managing Director
Aqua Pharma Ltd, part of the Aquatic Concept Group based in Norway, supplies the Scottish aquaculture industry with innovative treatments for the control of parasites. “Our key product is Paramove, a licensed therapeutant for treating sea lice. We work collaboratively, investing in research and technology, to provide effective treatment solutions.” NEIL CRAWFORD Managing Director
PLOTS 11 AND 12 HOTEL DEVELOPMENT Plans are in place to develop a hotel which both offers hospitality for visitors and provides training opportunities. HIE is currently seeking expressions of interest from hotel developers and operators interested in taking forward this exciting development. 26 26
AN LÒCHRAN HIGHLANDS AND ISLANDS ENTERPRISE “HIE is delighted to be based on the Campus alongside high calibre businesses, academia and research organisations. Here, we focus on economic development for the whole region as well as account management support for businesses and communities through our Inner Moray Firth team.” RUARAIDH MACNEIL, Project Director - Inverness Campus
UNIVERSITY OF THE HIGHLANDS AND ISLANDS STEM HUB The University of the Highlands and Islands STEM Team offers a range of programmes to primary and secondary schools and youth organisations. “The programe aims to promote engagement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects; raise aspirations to STEM study and careers; address gender stereotypes in STEM and showcase STEM research that the university is undertaking. The team has interacted with approximately 5,000 young people in the Highlands since August 2016.”
SCOTLAND’S RURAL COLLEGE (SRUC) Scotland’s Rural College’s Academic Division Epidemiology Research Unit is focused on improving and maintaining animal population health throughout Scotland and beyond. “Our work includes pioneering research into zoonoses – animal diseases that can affect humans. We regularly host worldlevel conferences, and are increasingly involved in supporting senior level policy development.” PROFESSOR GEORGE GUNN Head of the Epidemiology Research Unit
DR SAM CLARKE STEM Development Manager
UNIVERSITY OF THE HIGHLANDS AND ISLANDS
The Health Research team carries out pioneering research in biomedical sciences, and rural health and wellbeing. “Examples include studies to test the benefits of physical activity in patients with diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease, as well as development of a novel immunotherapy for liver cancer, which is showing early promise in clinical trials. Another relates to monitoring glucose control in patients with diabetes: a new technology is being evaluated to allow dried blood samples to be sent for analysis, reducing the need for travel and potentially saving patients and the health service time and money.” PROFESSOR IAN MEGSON Head of the Division of Health Research and Director of the Free Radical Research Facility
20:20 HOUSE SCOTTISH VET REFERRALS As the only dedicated veterinary ophthalmology centre in the North of Scotland, Scottish Vet Referrals offers a unique service to this area. “We provide ophthalmology services for all animals, including diagnosis, treatment and surgery. We are the only practice north of Edinburgh qualified to examine and certify dogs for freedom from hereditary eye diseases”. TONY WALL Veterinary Ophthalmologist: Partner 27 27
At times of economic uncertainty, it’s more important than ever that policy makers and business leaders stay connected and face challenges together.
BUSINESS PANEL DATA UNDERPINS AGILE SUPPORT To ensure that the voices of the Highlands and Islands are heard, over 1,000 businesses participate in HIE’s quarterly survey. The business panel is made up of companies and social enterprises of every size, sector and stage from all across the region, who provide their views on the issues that affect them. Head of planning and partnerships at HIE, Alastair Nicolson explains: “By completing a survey online or by telephone, panel members give their opinions on business in general as well as specific topical issues. The Business Panel brings a sense of ‘one voice’ from members across a vast region where representative views can otherwise be hard to aggregate. “The contribution of individual Highlands and Islands producers and service providers are collectively vital to Scotland’s productivity. So getting a ‘fix’ on their perceptions and experiences through the Business Panel is hugely important. We find that politicians and agencies are now using the reports we publish from the survey data as a primary source of information to support decision-making.” Surveys this year have included elements on the UK’s forthcoming departure from the European Union. So far they show strong sentiment in recognition of the importance of single market membership to the Scottish economy, and for the continued free movement of people. Survey results are also showing a high level of optimism among businesses for their own future over the next 12 months. Alastair says: “Our latest panel responses confirm that political uncertainty is leading many businesses to stall investment decisions, and that those which are investing tend to be doing so to maintain market share rather than to expand.
“However the results also show a high level of confidence in the future, particularly among HIE account managed businesses. It may be that where there is greater knowledge and experience of international opportunities, in both large and small businesses, there is more confidence and we’ll be looking at how we can stimulate this further still.” HIE has been regularly surveying businesses since 2008 allowing for long-term trends in business attitudes to be plotted. During the current period of uncertainty, surveys are being undertaken every quarter. “We work with our survey practitioners to ensure we have a good representation of geography, size and sector in our samples,” says Alastair. “Most other economic data is at least two years old by the time it’s been gathered, analysed and released. With conditions moving so fast, the Business Panel allows us to be alive to the issues that affect our businesses from one week to the next, and therefore how we should most effectively flex any interventions to make the biggest impact.” “We analyse the information and produce a concise report which goes back to members. They can see how the wider sample responded to the same questions. Importantly, it provides us with almost ‘real-time’ data on what HIE needs to prioritise to help businesses succeed.” The results are examined not only by HIE’s Board and senior management but also by its regional partners, Ministers and senior civil servants. According to Alastair: “Businesses thrive by responding quickly to changing customer needs. HIE aims to lead by example. The Business Panel survey is fundamentally important in enabling HIE to provide agile help where it offers most benefit.”
Politicians and agencies are now using the reports we publish from the survey data as a primary source of information to support decision-making. ALASTAIR NICOLSON, HIE
WHY THE BUSINESS PANEL WORKS FOR US
NORSCOT JOINERY LTD Callum Grant, managing director Wick-based manufacturer Norscot is a long-standing participant in HIE’s Business Panel surveys. Managing director Callum Grant says: “We’ve been taking part since 2010. The results allow us to benchmark ourselves against others in the Highlands. The analysis and report HIE produces gives us an insight into wider regional attitudes which is useful.” But Callum’s main aim is to play his part in helping HIE keep a finger on the pulse of businesses like his. “We’re very satisfied with the support we’re getting from HIE and in particular its increased focus on skills development which is very welcome. It seems to be working on longer term horizons and that’s positive for us – it feels like an improving service.”
Norscot is a family owned business set up in 1984 and manufactures energy efficient timber frame kit homes, windows and doors, selling them across the UK. It employs around 60 people at sites in Wick and Inverness. “We don’t import much from the EU,” says Callum, “so that works to our advantage over some of our competitors at the moment, but there appears to be a lot of gloom around generally. A lot of people don’t like the prospect of change but actually no one knows what Brexit will bring so we should remain hopeful and optimistic.” A key issue for Norscot is connectivity and broadband speeds. But, Callum says: “There are issues which continue to challenge businesses in the region and that’s why we’ll continue to take part in the business panel survey. It only takes 15 to 20 minutes to complete and if HIE is taking the trouble to listen, we should be prepared to communicate.”
Alistair and Paula Gordon, Ormiscaig, Wester Ross
WHY THE BUSINESS PANEL WORKS FOR US
ISLE OF EWE SMOKEHOUSE
Husband and wife team Alistair and Paula Gordon have owned and run the Isle of Ewe Smokehouse overlooking Loch Ewe for over 10 years. Employing around six part-time staff, and with a burgeoning online customer base, they readily acknowledge the benefits that being able to gauge wider trading conditions offers them and other businesses in the region. “We wholly support the Business Panel,” says Paula. “The survey doesn’t take long to complete but does actually help you to concentrate on your operations ‘in the round’. Too often you focus only on the moment when you’re getting orders out or generally ‘firefighting’ to get through what needs to be done.”
“Being a member of the panel gives you a sense of commonality with others. It’s useful to share issues with people who are trading in similar conditions especially when our challenges can be quite different to those in other parts of the UK. And yes, it does give you a sense that your voice is being heard, even if you haven’t had the opportunity, individually, to raise your point with specific agencies.” Being one of HIE’s account managed businesses has been fundamental to their success according to Paula, who sees evidence of growth and optimism in the area. “We probably wouldn’t be where we are without HIE’s advice and support. Now, more and more people are beginning to see that you can run a good business here, which is great. There are good wi-fi connections, excellent schools and a great lifestyle. “When you get the Business Panel results back it gives you a sense that you are part of something bigger and that you really aren’t living somewhere so remote.”
Isle of Ewe Smokehouse, Ormiscaig.
SGRÙDADH GNOTHACHAIS RÀITHEIL Tha còrr air 1000 gnothachasan an dràsta a’ gabhail pàirt ann an sgrùdadh ràitheil, air cuir air dòigh le HIE. Tha an sgrùdadh a’ toirt cothrom dha gnothachasan agus iomairtean sòisealta gach meud, fios a thoirt seachad air cùisean a bhios a’ toirt buaidh orra. Tha HIE ag obair le luchd-cleachdaidh nan sgrùdaidh airson dèanamh cinnteach gu bheil gnothachasan bho gach roinn agus gach meud a’ gabhail pàirt. Tha na toraidhean air an sgrùdadh air an aithris chun na com-pàirtichean. Tha an sgrùdadh cudromach airson fiosrachadh a’ thoirt dhuinn air dè dh’fheumas HIE a dhèanamh airson gnothachasan a chuideachadh gum bi iad nas soirbheachail. 15
Islanders off Scotland’s western seaboard are taking control of the land on which they live. It’s a quiet revolution that is writing a new script for land and asset ownership.
ISLANDS COMMUNITIES LEAD THE WAY IN RE-IMAGINING LAND OWNERSHIP The Outer Hebrides or Innse Gall in Gaelic, comprise 716,000 acres of beautifully rugged and sparsely populated land. Over half of it is now owned and managed by the communities who live there. In some cases private landowners gifted the land to the community; in others a price was agreed; and on some occasions islanders even outbid competitors. HIE has been involved in nearly every transaction. Following the successful purchase of the Island of Eigg by its residents in 1997, HIE set up its Community Land Unit, now known as the Community Assets Team (CAT). The team went on to support buyouts in Knoydart, Gigha, North Harris and many more that followed.
Many of the early purchases were in remote locations and were largely fuelled, says academic Dr Calum MacLeod, by: “the injustice of the conditions in which they lived… characterised by substandard housing, insecurity of tenure and what could be described as systematic asset stripping that… amplified their perceived lack of power in decisionmaking affecting their everyday lives.” Since then HIE has invested over £7.7m supporting over 200 purchases of land and assets by communities across the region. They range from radio stations to petrol pumps and community hubs as well as land and forestry. Their new community owners all hope these assets will provide improved local rewards under their stewardship, but it’s the Outer Hebrides which has shown the most impressive appetite for community ownership.
Communities take a long term view and seek to develop their land to create opportunities for the next generation and those that will follow. SANDRA HOLMES, HIE
Heading up HIE’s community assets team, Sandra Holmes says: “There are different drivers for communities in each acquisition, but I think at a high level there’s something about the history of crofting tenure in the Outer Hebrides – the strong connection that crofters have always had with the land – which makes community ownership naturally attractive. Communities take a long-term view and seek to develop their land to create opportunities for the next generation and those that will follow. There exists, says Douglas Cowan, HIE’s director of strengthening communities, a strong belief in the transformation that community ownership can provide. “Community ownership benefits from a supportive policy and legislative environment and from public investment. It is an investment in the delivery of public goods; and in helping the community be less dependent on public resources; in a community’s ability to lead and be in control of their own development.” Through its community assets team, HIE supports local residents to identify the benefits that ownership could deliver; what assets they’ll need and how these can be funded. “Inevitably public funding is required to help people acquire or build the capital assets they need to succeed, but the community needs to satisfy itself that these will deliver community benefit, and importantly, an income stream. There is no money available for ongoing revenue funding,” explains Holmes. The exposed location of the islands on the Atlantic shore allowed some of the earlier community landowners in the Outer Hebrides to secure a good income from developing wind turbines on their land. Since then a reduced renewable energy tariff makes this less attractive financially, but community ownership is, in any case, about developing a range of initiatives to meet local needs – whether that’s a shop, affordable housing or public facilities.
* Dr C. Macleod, The Future of Community Land Ownership in Scotland A Discussion Paper.
However, it’s not without its challenges wherever the project is located. Cowan explains: “Not all community cafes and local heritage centres are revenue earners and it’s unsustainable in the long-term to trade on the back of volunteering and goodwill. We all need to share the learning of what works and what has been less successful.” But what does work has not been lost on the neighbours of community-owned land in the Outer Hebrides where the model has expanded so rapidly that the islands now host two-thirds of all community owned land in Scotland. After celebrating the 20th anniversary, Holmes reflects on the changes that have occurred. “No-one could have anticipated back then what was to materialise 20 years on. Today 563,000 acres, that’s just over 3% of Scotland’s land mass, is community owned. This is quite remarkable and is drawing interest both nationally and internationally. Furthermore, land reform and community empowerment are now a central part of the legislative and policy landscape of Scotland.” Community ownership remains at the heart of HIE’s strengthening communities agenda and the organisation is proud of its role supporting the development of the sector. HIE welcomes the fact that community ownership has become mainstreamed and that the agency is no longer the sole source of support for communities. However, as Cowan concludes: “What sets HIE apart is that as a development agency it focuses support on the organisation as well as the project. Strong boards with good governance provide the foundation for empowered and enterprising communities and this is where HIE continues to have a lot to offer.”
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Calum Mackay and Gordon Cumming
CASE STUDY: NORTH HARRIS TRUST The North Harris Trust led one of the biggest community buyouts in the Outer Hebrides, when it purchased the privately owned North Harris Estate in 2003, supported by HIE’s community assets team. It went on to buy a neighbouring estate and was gifted the island of Scalpay, making it one of the principal landowners in the Outer Hebrides. A spectacular landscape subject to national and international designations Harris has, however, experienced decades of population decline and wrestled with fuel poverty, income deprivation and low community confidence. With the aim of safeguarding its unique landscape while developing its assets for economic and social benefit, the Trust has delivered projects over the past 14 years that would have been almost impossible for any private owner to achieve. Under the stewardship of the Trust, eight new houses are now available for rent; zero carbon business units have been created; wind turbines developed; a recycling centre opened and a new visitor hub to encourage more tourists. Additionally in 2011 the Trust created the annual Isle of Harris Mountain Festival attracting visitors to enjoy its landscape, and there are numerous similarly ambitious projects still in the pipeline. Trust chair Calum Mackay says: “We started at a very low base for Harris, in terms of population, economic development, employment opportunities, and while these have proved hard issues to tackle in the short-term, I think the North Harris Trust has raised the profile of all these issues and has engaged with outside agencies to see what can be done to help the situation.” As well as renewable energy, through developments in wind and hydro, the Trust is focused on developing its natural assets to attract tourists.
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Trust manager Gordon Cumming explains: “Our landscape; footpath network; the eagles and our coastline, they all bring people here. So, we’re really trying to encourage that. These are great resources for the North Harris Trust and a good thing when maybe other business opportunities are difficult to progress because of issues like transport and the cost of getting things to the mainland. Tourism is something we can really develop for the benefit of the economy.” Following the intensive assistance given to the Trust by HIE’s community assets team in the early days of their ownership, support is now the responsibility of HIE’s area team under its account management model. HIE’s head of strengthening communities for the Outer Hebrides team, Jane MacIntosh, is realistic about the challenges involved for the community: “Much has been achieved by the North Harris Trust but it has not always been plain sailing and there will always be new issues to resolve, such as succession – how to get young people involved and keen to take on the responsibility for running the Trust. Although the population of Harris has halved over the past 50 years it’s declining at a much slower rate now so there is beginning to be a reversal and there’s definitely a vibrancy about Harris that wasn’t there before.” Mackay is all too aware of the tricky path that must be forged in community decision-making, but points out that the board directors are meticulous at attending the monthly meetings and their commitment is strong: “I think we are regarded as a good example of what community land ownership can do. Certainly the feedback we get, both formal and informal, is very positive. And when other communities are thinking about buying their land, they very often come to North Harris to ask about our experience.” So while building ‘critical mass’ in terms of population and economic activity has proved difficult in such a fragile area, community ownership is presenting itself as the right solution for meeting the multiple needs of sustainable development in North Harris. Gordon Cumming concludes: “Community ownership has brought real economic benefits to the area but we know we have to build up all our sources of income: this is not a short-term project. “However, there is a renewed sense of optimism and confidence here, and the support from agencies like HIE has been fantastic. They see that we are capable of delivering projects and want to work with us.”
Inspiring keynote speakers, policy information, footage of uplifting community-led projects, workshops, future ideas huddles and a marketplace of experts were all part of the Strengthening Communities Conference Scotland 2017.
Pictured: HIE’s Douglas Cowan
STRENGTHENING COMMUNITIES CONFERENCE SCOTLAND 2017 The event was organised by HIE and supported by Scottish Goverment, which was marking 20 years of offering dedicated support to communities who want to own and run their own assets. Its aim was to look at how community groups, policy makers and support agencies can work strategically now and into the future to maximise the impact of community-led projects and public investment. The inspiring speakers included Frank Rennie, professor of sustainable rural development at the University of the Highlands and Islands, and Cormac Russell, managing director of Nurture Development, who over the last 20 years has worked with communities in over 35 countries around the world. Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity Fergus Ewing MSP also spoke. Douglas Cowan HIE’s director of strengthening communities, says: “We’ve had some great feedback, and everyone who came along seems to have taken full advantage of the opportunity to share their ideas and experiences of community development. “We’re keen to keep up the momentum and connections that were made. Initially, we’ll share the ideas which came through from the future planning sessions and look at what can change as a result. The communities are saying they got a lot out of the opportunity to speak with people involved in community development from across Scotland, and we’ll certainly look at how we can build on this with future events.” Watch some of the key highlights of the #SCCS17 event on the conference webpages. hie.co.uk/scc
A Forres engineering firm is among the first to benefit from a new way of keeping young people living and working in the north of Scotland.
GRADUATE LEVEL APPRENTICES AJ Engineering welcomed 20-year-old Laura Mair into their ranks in August as a Graduate Level Apprentice (GLA). In partnership with Herriot Watt University the firm is offering people, young and old, the chance to obtain the equivalent of a full-time university degree while gaining real-time experience on the job. With support from European Social Funds, Skills Development Scotland created GLAs in consultation with employers and the higher education sector. They provide a new way into education for people in employment with individuals being able to access the same high level training they would receive had they enrolled on a traditional four-year university course. AJ Engineering embraced the new approach and provides Laura with a salary while she completes her degree. It also helps tailor her work to coincide with what she is learning at the time. Employing Laura was not unfamiliar territory for the company as it also employs several modern apprentices each year. “I’ve got people my own age around me and that makes such a difference,” says Laura. “I would tell other young people to just go for it. But you have to make sure that you’re willing to be really committed – it is a lot of hard work.” Originally from just outside Buckie, Laura, whose apprenticeship is in engineering, design and manufacturing, is now living in Elgin and she insists she wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. A self-confessed “home bird” she has encouraged other like-minded people to explore employment opportunities in the north of Scotland. “I like it here as I am not a fan of big city life,” she says. “I think if you go into certain areas of employment you have to be willing to travel about, but when I moved to Elgin it just worked for me.”
Instead of coming out of the degree with debt you come out with a degree of experience. GRAHAM ALEXANDER, AJ ENGINEERING 36
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Training and work opportunities are crucial to the region when it comes to retaining and attracting young people. AJ Engineering recognises this, and by offering these apprenticeships it is providing opportunities for people who can become the lifeblood of the company. The firm plans to keep Laura on after she graduates and is determined to continue offering the apprenticeship over the next few years. General manager, Graham Alexander, sees no downside to the GLA programme. He had more than 20 applications for the role, and expects to receive more next year when word spreads and more companies recognise the benefits of the arrangement. “Essentially you get to go to university, get a degree and it’s the same degree you would get had you have been there all four years,” he says. “Instead of coming out of the degree with debt you come out with a degree of experience. “It was such a great opportunity I was expecting hundreds of applications, but because it is so new many people won’t know much about it. People do have to take a bit of a leap of faith. “In places like Forres and other places in the north an awful lot of young people go off to university in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen and don’t come back. It’s hard getting them to stay here or move back. These are the kind of people who develop and start up companies.”
AJ Engineering receives support from HIE and has regular contact with account manager Karen Peasnall. Karen set up the initial meeting with SDS when the GLA was first pitched to the firm. The organisation is committed to continuing to attract young people to the region. Its 2015 report into attitudes and aspirations of young people attracted well over 4,000 responses. Encouragingly, 62% felt those who chose to stay in the region after education did so for positive reasons and in general most felt that those people were lucky to be able to do so. However, there was still a similar number of people who felt that if they were to stay in the region they would be compromising on career opportunities. HIE chief executive, Charlotte Wright, recognises the challenges the region still faces in retaining and attracting young people. Looking ahead to the Year of Young People in 2018, she vowed to continue to meet the needs of the new generation. “Young people are vital to the future of our communities and our economy,” she says. “The challenges come in tackling longstanding issues that cause people to leave rural areas. “Initiatives such as GLAs, graduate and student placements, the growing universities sector and key growth sectors such as life sciences, creative industries, tourism and energy, all provide education, training and career opportunities that will help attract and retain more young people.” 37
The beauty of Argyll and the Islands is timelessly constant but its tourism industry is really taking off, boosted by a dynamic collaboration between its public and private sectors.
TOURISM IN ARGYLL AND THE ISLANDS: GOING PLACES Within day-trip distance of Scotland’s Central Belt, the area’s stunning coasts, forests, mountains and 23 inhabited islands have always been attractive to visitors. Previously, numerous agencies and local marketing groups worked hard to promote their particular offers but in 2012 the creation of an umbrella group began to transform the performance of the sector. Argyll and The Isles Tourism Co-operative (AITC) comprises 11 local marketing groups and more recently, sectoral associates, that together represent around 1200 tourism interests. Visitor spend began to rise spectacularly. HIE, is a member of Argyll and the Islands Strategic Tourism Partnership and is supporting the ambition of the AITC to grow the sector by a further £16m over the next three years. AITC’s development team work with operators discussing emerging trends, risks and opportunities and deliver initiatives such as local summits, workshops and press trips. David Smart, HIE’s head of special projects in Argyll, explains: “The Strategic Tourism Partnership agrees a framework to deliver growth. AITC then delivers both marketing and development tasks to realise set targets. This approach delivered the successful ‘Wild about Argyll’ campaign – aimed at positioning Argyll and the Islands as Scotland’s Adventure Coast.” This aggregation of effort saw visitor numbers to Argyll and the Islands attractions increase by nearly 22% between 2015 and 2016, compared to Scotland’s overall figure of just under 5%.* Calum Ross, chair of AITC says: “By working together we created a strategic blueprint for the wider area entitled TAI2020 (our ‘tourism rocket’) and began promoting Argyll and the Islands through numerous digital channels including a content rich website, exploreargyll.co.uk supplemented by our wildaboutargyll.co.uk campaign site. “Prospective visitors can confidently plan activities here – both wild and mild; tie in with local events and devise their own bespoke itinerary using our interactive map. They can choose from a range of places to eat and stay, which encourages them to extend their visits – and return again before and after high summer.”
*Visitor Attraction Monitor, The Moffat Centre, Glasgow Caledonian University
HIE is dedicated to driving the momentum forward, creating more jobs and greater wealth in this key sector. The agency recently supported significant upgrades to Loch Melfort and Oban Perle Hotels, and is contributing towards the re-development of the Machrie Hotel on the island of Islay. “The operators of these hotels came to us with ambitious plans and we understood the wider value of them raising the game”, says David Smart. “In supporting these investments, we’re helping to bring higher spending and international visitors into the area and that creates opportunities for others. We believe there are still significant opportunities in the area for developers of boutique hotels.” Over 100 years old, the Machrie Golf Course is internationally recognised for its unique qualities and Islay is a magnet for whisky connoisseurs attracted by its numerous distilleries. Margaret McSporran, HIE’s head of business growth in Argyll says: “The quality of the development at Machrie aims to compound the world-class experience that the island’s wildlife and iconic distilleries already offer international visitors. The developers’ investment reflects Islay’s continuing growth in popularity among people who are looking to experience the very best.” As joint proprietors of Loch Melfort Hotel, Calum Ross and his wife Rachel have backed their confidence in the Argyll and the Islands tourism strategy with their own significant investment aimed at high-end domestic and
international tour operators. Calum Ross says: “Since we took over the Loch Melfort Hotel in 2008 we’ve targeted our business at small groups or independent leisure travellers, focusing on their interest in adventure tourism, gardens, wildlife and photography, and on offering a level of service recognised by numerous industry and food awards. By doing so we’ve doubled turnover. “Now, with support from HIE, we have added more rooms, upgraded our product and aim to increase international sales by around 50%.” Autumn in Argyll is particularly pretty and accommodation providers are increasingly targeting opportunities that the October school break offers to families and to an industry keen to lengthen its season. Attractions such as Kilmartin Museum and Rothesay Pavilion on Bute will become enhanced destination attractions following planned redevelopments, while events such as the Oban Winter Festival in November are working to maintain visitor spend throughout the year. And it’s not just land-based tourism that Argyll’s dynamic collaborators are targeting. They believe the area’s ports and marinas have potential way beyond their current popularity with yachting and cruising visitors.
Over 800 cruise calls were booked for Oban in 2017 with passenger numbers set to rise 35% on the previous year. Its quayside is a key transit point for the sailing community before they head out to Mull and the network of smaller ports in the Inner Hebrides and along the Argyll coastline. The area’s marine leisure potential featured so highly in Scotland’s marine tourism strategy ‘Awakening the Giant’, that a £3m development of transit berthing and visitor facilities in Oban is underway with funding from HIE and Argyll and Bute Council. Following this investment the visitor experience will be enhanced, with short-stay berths on Oban’s North Pier allowing sailors to easily access the town’s attractions, shops and restaurants. David Smart is clear about the direction of the tourism industry in Argyll and the Islands. “You can detect, through the level of foreign investors now buying into the area, that its potential is growing quickly. Through strategic collaboration and investment, ambitions are rising and that attracts more people to move into the area. Argyll tourism is punching above its weight and our investment is aimed at keeping it on that trajectory.”
With support from HIE we have added more rooms, upgraded our product and aim to increase international sales by around 50%.
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HIE Focas magazine winter/issue 1