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Highlands And Islands Enterprise Launch New Strategy

16th June 2005

The Highlands and Islands Enterprise network (HIE), today (Friday June 17), launched its new strategy 'A Smart Successful Highlands and Islands'.

The document, which spells out HIE's objectives over the coming three to five years, is published in both English and Gaelic and is available online at Highlands And Islands Enterprise Network Strategy,or from any HIE network office.

HIE views the start of the 21st century as a vitally important stage in the economic and community development of the Highlands and Islands. As huge economic, political, environmental and technological changes sweep across the world, the Highlands and Islands need to meet the new challenges and seize the new opportunities in the global economy over the coming years.

Speaking about the new revised strategy HIE chairman, William Roe, stated: "We are in the process of changing gear to an economy which needs to focus on high value products and that includes the jobs people do.

"We are actively welcoming new residents to the area, and we need many more - I believe we should aim to become a region of half a million residents in twenty years' time.

"Our long-term vision for the area makes it clear that we are working to leave a legacy for future generations and this requires development that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. We are seeking to build the region's reputation for managing and enhancing its outstanding natural heritage assets.

"While we recognise the continued development of Inverness will act as an economic driver for the region, we also know that to achieve the desired balanced growth throughout the area our resources must be targeted towards the less prosperous parts. This positive targeting is recognition of our commitment to bringing forward projects in remote or fragile areas.

"We feel passionately about the future of the Highlands and Islands and the task of making it a smart, successful region to rival any rural region in the world."

'A Smart Successful Highlands and Islands' also looks forward to the main aspirations for the area over the next 20 years. These include:

* A growing population with the overall total approaching half a million - up around 15 per cent on the 2005 figure of 435,000. With growth in every part of the area

* A further 20,000 or so full-time equivalent quality jobs - up around 10 per cent on the 2005 figure

* Higher personal and household incomes - up 10 to 15 per cent from 2005 levels in real terms

* World-rated attractiveness of both natural and built environments, which fully embrace sustainable development principles

* A modern, progressive society, steadily building a sustainable future for he next generations.

* An open-arms approach to attracting people, with the Highlands and Islands an international shop window for Scotland

The preparation of the strategy began with the largest consultation exercise HIE has ever undertaken. The consultation was part of a detailed review of how, in an area with challenges and opportunities highly distinct from other parts of Scotland, HIE could best help deliver national economic priorities and pursue its unique community development role.

Attending the launch, Deputy First Minister and Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, Jim Wallace said: "For many years, HIE has been the main driver of economic development in the Highlands, helping to create and support a diverse, dynamic and sustainable economy in the Highlands and Islands. Great progress has been made in realising this ambition but undoubtedly, significant challenges still lie ahead.

"'A Smart, Successful Scotland' (SSS) recognises these challenges and sets out what is required to achieve sustained economic growth. The publication of 'A Smart, Successful Highlands & Islands' today will help ensure that HIE's activities in taking forward the themes of SSS are firmly grounded in the opportunities and needs of the area. I look forward to seeing this strategy bearing fruit and securing a smart, successful region in a smart, successful country."

In seeking to interpret the national challenges and priorities of 'A Smart, Successful Scotland' and drawing out what will be required in a Highlands and Islands context to create a smart, successful area, HIE emphasise five crucial contributors to success:

* Population - more people living, working and studying in the Highlands and Islands are essential to sustaining long term progress

* Place - our towns and our villages need to be as attractive as our natural environment, we have to do more to enhance and capitalise on our assets, particularly in terms of our built environment

* Productivity - we must aspire to create more businesses of scale and exploit sectors that can combat issues surrounding location through internet based working and e-commerce

* Pay - we should seek to raise income levels by 10-15 per cent in real terms, partly through increasing and diversifying the skills base, building the knowledge economy and establishing the University of the Highlands and Islands

* Prospects - a foundation for success will be long term investment in communities with the aim of improving the overall attractiveness of the area and enabling residents to perceive their communities prospects as very positive

The strategy highlights that improved transport links are vital for the future of the Highlands and Islands. There was almost complete agreement among all stakeholder groups who took part in the consultation process that continued improvements in the transport infrastructure are essential to the long-term development of the Highlands and Islands. A stronger public transport network will improve quality of life, draw new people to the region and support the growth of rural areas.

The establishment of a University of the Highlands and Islands is on course to be launched in 2007 and is seen by HIE to be hugely important, this was also one of the key areas of importance to people throughout the region, as highlighted by the strategy consultation.

Mr Roe added: "The strategic opportunities to be seized by exploiting the region's unrivalled renewable energy resources are another potentially massive area the Network is working towards.

"Our job is to realise the benefits for businesses and communities, while contributing to national energy targets and sustainable development aims.

"Science and technology also offer a diverse and exciting range of opportunities, from medical research and production to marine biotechnology
to nuclear decommissioning."

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