The chairman of one of the UK’s biggest companies has delivered a blueprint for driving economic growth and reversing depopulation across a large part of Scotland.
As well as leading the board of broadcasting giant Sky for the past 12 years, Nicholas Ferguson chairs meetings of Argyll and Bute Economic Forum (Abef).
His interest in the region stems from his roots in Tighnabruaich and a home in Kilfinan.
“I spend about a quarter of the my time in the area,” he said yesterday as he revealed the findings of an Abef report setting out recommendations for strengthening the economy of an area taking in towns as diverse as Oban, Lochgilphead, Tarbert, Campbeltown and Helensburgh, as well as the islands of Mull, Islay, Coll and Tiree.
Among its recommendations is that Oban is developed into a university town to tap into growing demand for higher education and expertise already on its doorstep, such as the Scottish Marine Institute at Dunstaffnage.
Mr Ferguson, educated at Harvard University in the US, said he approached his mission to improve the economic prospects of Argyll and Bute in much the same way as he applied his expertise to boost business at Sky.
He added: “We don’t, of course, have to worry about roads and ferries or education at Sky, but the principles are the same.”
Abef’s report suggests marketing of the area should be coordinated across all agencies involved.
Schools and businesses need to forge stronger links so that young people are aware of careers opportunities on their doorstep, it says.
Where there are obstacles, such as mobile connectivity, the report calls for coordinated efforts to campaign for and achieve change and for agencies to focus their spending, where possible, on local producers and suppliers.
Mr Ferguson will step down from Sky’s board in April, with former chairman and chief executive James Murdoch – the son of Sky owner Rupert Murdoch – returning to the role he left at the height of a hacking scandal four years ago.
Abef’s report starts on the premise that Argyll and Bute’s economy will grow – Mr Ferguson said this was not in any doubt – but needs key agencies working hand-in-hand to attract people and jobs.
Mr Ferguson said: “We have a strong entrepreneurial tradition and many great small businesses but, as in any business, if we are to achieve our potential, we need a joined-up approach.
“The private, public and academic sectors must come together to drive prosperity in one of Scotland’s most promising regions.”
Abef’s report focuses on three key areas – tourism, food production and education – in which the public-private partnership believes the area has strengths.
But it says the region is losing too many young people who are lured by better job prospects elsewhere.
Mr Ferguson said the three main barriers to economic growth were poor mobile phone connectivity, a shortage of affordable housing and unsatisfactory road links.