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HIE Network Announces Results For 2004 - 05

25th May 2005

The economy of the Highlands and Islands is continuing to improve, with unemployment showing a steady downward trend while population levels are rising.

That was the message today (Thursday 26 May) from William Roe, chairman of Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Announcing the agency's results for the year from April 2004 to March 2005, Mr Roe said that, despite setbacks, the area's economy was in good health and there were strong grounds to be optimistic about the future.

"If you look at key indicators of prosperity, things like unemployment levels and population growth, the Highlands and Islands as a whole is continuing to punch above its weight and out-perform other parts of Scotland," said Mr Roe.

"The latest figures show the area's unemployment rate in April 2005 was just 2.4 percent. That's down from 2.8 percent the previous April, half a percent better than the Scottish average and exactly in line with the UK figure. Not so long ago, such a situation would have been unimaginable. And what's really significant is that falling unemployment in the area has become a trend over several years. The latest figures cannot be dismissed as a one-off.

"At the same time, the most recent official estimates show the area's population is continuing to rise. The mid-2004 figures from the General Register of Scotland show that, in the previous twelve months, Argyll Bute's population declined marginally, by 0.1 percent, but the Western Isles rose by 0.6 percent, Highland was up 1.1 percent, Orkney saw a 1 percent increase and both Moray and Shetland rose by 0.3 percent.

"These are clear signs of a region which is moving in the right direction and making a positive contribution to the Scottish and UK economies."

Turning to the HIE network's own achievements, chief executive Sandy Cumming said it had been a record year for investment in the local economy and he was pleased with the results.

A number of large-scale strategic projects had enabled the agency to secure additional Scottish Executive and EU funding, to achieve its highest ever expenditure of 113.6 million.

These had included cutting-edge initiatives such as the world's first test centre for wave and tidal energy devices - the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney; the launch of a new community energy company; support for
the development of a research programme for the University of the Highlands
and Islands; refurbishment of the former Arnish fabrication yard as a multi-user business park; the proposed Centre for Health Science in Inverness; broadband roll-out throughout the Highlands and Islands - including the Connected Communities project in the Western Isles; development of a decommissioning trials testing facility in Caithness, the European Centre for Marine Biotechnology at Dunstaffnage, near Oban; Aviemore Highland Resort, and the forthcoming Scottish Year of Highland Culture 2007.

"Any one of these projects, on its own, would offer a sign that the HIE network is an ambitious development agency, ambitious for itself and for the area it serves," said Mr Cumming. "Together, they show real commitment to helping the people of the area achieve economic prosperity now and in the future."

Turning to the year's results, Mr Cumming said that job creation and retention was a strong area of Network performance. HIE supported 1,921 jobs in 2004-05, ten percent above its target of 1,750.

Progress was also made towards improving wage levels, which HIE regards as a key issue. On average, jobs supported by the Network paid four percent more than the local private sector average. While this was encouraging, Mr Cumming acknowledged that the agency had hoped to do better and was redoubling its efforts in 2005-06.

The number of new business starts supported by the HIE network rose again, with 692 achieved against a target of 650. Importantly, the number of new starts still trading after three years, was also high. Eighty percent of those assisted by HIE remained in business, well over the agency's 70 percent target.

HIE helped local businesses take forward 73 research and innovation projects, falling short of its target of 85. At the same time, however, 94 businesses were assisted to develop new products and processes, well above the target figure of 60.

Takeup of e-business moved forward, with 308 businesses receiving assistance to trade effectively online (target: 235). HIE also beat its target to help more businesses engage in international trade, assisting 128 against a target of 100, while affordable broadband access was available to 68 percent of the Highlands and Islands population (target: 70 percent).

The Network's skills performance was strong, with 624 businesses engaged in workforce development against a target of 425, and 410 firms working with HIE to improve their management and leadership skills - again, well above the target figure of 325.

The number of Modern Apprentices receiving training while in work was 3,023 (target: 2,300) while Skillseekers in training numbered 896 (target: 900). Work based training for unemployed people attracted 726 participants target: 600).

Careers Scotland gave advice to 16,732 people across the Highlands and Islands and helped 458 16-19 year olds who were not in employment, education or training, to improve their prospects of entering the labour market. 365 of those taking part progressed to a job, education, training or voluntary work.

Careers Scotland also held an innovative careers fair, SkillCity, in Dingwall, in September 2004. The three-day event attracted over 4,500 young people.

In the area of strengthening communities, the Network contributed towards the enhancement of 282 facilities (target:185) and supported 203 EU-funded community economic development projects (target: 200).

Arts and culture thrived, with HIE supporting 183 projects (target: 125), while 168 projects to enhance environmental quality were progressed target: 112).

"All in all, 2004-05 was a good year for the Highlands and Islands, with record investment from the HIE network driving forward a range of projects which will benefit the area for decades to come," said Mr Cumming.

"That said, we know we can do better in several key areas. That's why, in our new operating plan for the Network, we have worked with the Scottish Executive to sharpen our focus on key priority areas where we can make a real difference.

"This new focus means the volume of targets from 2005-06 and beyond has been reduced from last year's 33 to 20 key and primary measures which better reflect the fast-changing, outward-looking economy in which we now operate. These measures reflect the Network's commitment to quality in all our activities and will enable us to help create a smart, successful Highlands and Islands."

The full list of Network targets and out-turns can be found at the
HIE website at -
Network Targets and Outcomes