A £100 million funding package for Moray has been accelerated in the hope will kick-start the region’s economy following the coronavirus pandemic.
The UK and Scottish governments had backed the growth deal vision to be delivered over 15 years.
But yesterday Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced an agreement had been struck in the spending review to reduce the period by five years to ensure the benefits are felt sooner.
The change means £1.1m of funding per year will be brought forward – raising hopes of earlier job and supply chain opportunities.
Two new Moray College UHI campuses, a cultural quarter in Elgin encompassing a refurbished Town Hall and Grant Lodge as well as investments in public transport, affordable housing and healthcare are all included in the growth deal vision, which aims to retain and attract talent to the area among other objectives.
It is hoped the final deal will be agreed before the Scottish Parliament election in May.
The spending review announcement also included accelerated funding pledges for growth deals on Tayside, the Scottish Borders and a collective package for Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.
Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross, who is also Moray MP, said: “This is excellent news. I’ve been working hard to get the timescale of the deal reduced so we can see the benefits far quicker.
“The Chancellor’s announcement will speed up the delivery of the Moray Growth Deal, along with three others in Scotland. It was great to see Moray mentioned specifically in the statement and shows the priority this deal is getting from the UK Government.
“The projects involved in this deal will bring huge benefits to Moray as we work to rebuild our economy after the coronavirus crisis.
“These benefits will be even greater now the UK Government has agreed to spread its contribution over a shorter period.”
The UK and Scottish government have pledged a collective £65m for the package with the rest of the investment coming from other organisations, including UHI, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the private sector.
Officials hope the funding will generate more than double the initial investment over the next 15 years.
Scottish Government spending as part of the growth deal was always intended to be delivered over 10 years.
Moray Council leader Graham Leadbitter said: “The commitment from the UK Government to match the Scottish Government’s timescale for investment is positive news.
“The growth deal projects in Moray represent investment in jobs, skills, iconic infrastructure and connectivity for our predominantly rural area.
“Any acceleration in this investment is very welcome.”
Sarah Medcraf, chief executive of Moray Chamber of Commerce, said: “The Chancellor’s announcement enables Moray to gain an extra £1.1m each year now the duration has been reduced.
“This will significantly help the timeline of the growth deal projects and allow more work to start sooner, enabling job creation and supply chain opportunities – all of which will contribute to our recovery from Covid-19.”
Growth deals are large amounts of investment from UK and Scottish governments to fund a series of individual projects that would otherwise be unaffordable.
Tim Eagle, leader of Moray Council’s Conservative group, said: “This is a welcome commitment from the Chancellor and exactly what local business leaders have been calling for.
“The projects involved in the £100million deal are really exciting.
“We can all now look forward to seeing this all come to fruition in the coming years to help Moray build back better after the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston said: “Our priority must be to support our communities, securing jobs and livelihoods.
“And that’s why the Chancellor’s decision to accelerate the roll-out of the £32.5million for the Moray growth deal is so significant.
“It provides us with the financial tools to get on and make a real positive difference for our communities.”