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North enterprise agency approved more than £48m in Covid support funding

HIE chairman, Alistair Dodds.

Businesses and communities in the north received Covid support funding totalling more than £48million through Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), according to the organisation’s annual report.

The development agency said the cash it had directly administered in response to the pandemic had helped 873 projects during what its chairman described as “a year like no other.”

The report showed Scottish Government-funded HIE invested a total of £92.4m in the Highlands and Islands in the 12 months to April, including £23.7m Covid-19 resilience funding.

It also approved applications from businesses in the area for a further £24.9m in additional Covid funds administered by Scottish Enterprise (SE).

HIE said its own investments made during the year were forecast to support the retention of 1,227 jobs and the creation of 638, with more than 60% of the posts in the tourism and food and drink sectors.

They are also expected to increase business turnover in the north by £117m, including £19.1m in international sales and £7.9m in the social economy.

According to the agency’s figures, Covid support funding directly administered by HIE is predicted to support 435 additional full-time-equivalent jobs and increase business revenue by around £6.5m.

Agency had to act swiftly at start of pandemic

The agency said it had to act swiftly on a range of issues at the start of the pandemic, including engaging with business and communities “to gather insights and intelligence on the impacts of Covid-19 and devise support strategies.”

Its response to the crisis included “intense collaboration” with bodies, such as other enterprise and skills agencies, the Enterprise and Skills Strategic Board, local authorities and the Scottish Government.

The agency added: “At the same time, HIE was also helping businesses prepare for and then adapt to the UK’s exit from the EU.

“Extensive surveys of firms across the Highlands and Islands found that, like the pandemic, Brexit also had a disproportionate impact on the region compared with other areas of Scotland.”

HIE’s chairman, Alistair Dodds, said: “The year covered by this report was a year like no other. Given the scale of the challenges we all faced, it is particularly reassuring that we were able to record such a strong set of out-turns.

“While we cannot undo the economic hardships that many continue to experience, these outputs, not least the number of jobs supported, demonstrate both the resilience of our clients and the effectiveness of our approach.

“These qualities will continue to be tested in the years ahead as we play our part in achieving a strong and sustainable recovery for all parts of the Highlands and Islands.”

The Cairngorm funicular railway.

HIE hailed “notable progress” made on several major projects during the year, including the Space Hub Sutherland development, which became the first proposed Scottish spaceport to achieve planning consent in August 2020.

It also highlighted the decision by its board and the Scottish Government in the same month carry out repairs costed at £16m to bring the Cairngorm funicular railway back into operation.

In June this year, the agency published a final version of a long-term masterplan for the Cairngorm Estate, which it owns, following a programme of stakeholder and public consultation.

HIE announced last week that Stuart Black had been appointed as its new chief executive and will take up the post from the start of next year.

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