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Economic and demographic challenges of Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh Highland Council ward thrown into sharp focus by coronavirus crisis, HIE official admits


By Hector MacKenzie

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Alastair Nicolson HIE.
Alastair Nicolson HIE.

THE role of an enterprise agency in economic and community development in one of Ross-shire's largest council wards came under the spotlight yesterday.

Highland Council's Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh area committee heard a report from Highlands and Islands Enterprise’s Alastair Nicolson, the agency's interim area manager for Lochaber Skye and Wester Ross.

The meeting also heard about the organisation’s response to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdown restrictions on the regional economy.

"Covid-19 has brought our economic and demographic challenges into even sharper focus with evidence suggesting a greater impact on the tourism and hospitality sector, young people and on some of our more remote areas." - Alastair Nicolson, HIE

HIE published its three-year strategy in June 2019, aligned with the vision set out by the Enterprise and Skills Strategic Board and the Scottish Government for sustainable and inclusive economic growth for Scotland. During his presentation Mr Nicolson confirmed that this framework remains valid and the long-term vision of the Highlands and Islands as a highly successful, inclusive and prosperous region in which increasing numbers of people choose to live, work, study and invest.

He said: “Covid-19 has brought our economic and demographic challenges into even sharper focus with evidence suggesting a greater impact on the tourism and hospitality sector, young people and on some of our more remote areas. We will need to focus on recovery, building resilience in our businesses and communities so they can be sustainable and grow, retaining and creating employment and attracting new population and investment. The Wester Ross area has many opportunities from its unique natural, physical, human and cultural assets and a recovery built around green and blue growth will be key.”

From April 2020, HIE worked in partnership with Scottish Enterprise, South of Scotland Enterprise, Creative Scotland and VisitScotland to create and deliver the Pivotal Enterprises Resilience Fund (PERF) and hardship funds made available by the Scottish Government. Significant recipients of the £10.4m of PERF grant awarded to businesses in the Highland Council area include:

• Torridon Inn

• Applecross Inn

• The Arch Inn

• Badachro Trading

•The Ceilidh Place

•Wester Ross Radio

• Badachro Distillery

•Kinlochewe Hotel

In addition HIE has continued to work with key employers in the area to support growth and diversification, including at Kishorn where the provision of grant aid to Kishorn Port Limited has supported the development of an accommodation block to improve the site’s competitiveness when bidding for larger scale decommissioning projects.

Through the Supporting Communities fund, from March 2020, HIE has delivered in excess of £3m of Scottish Government funding to community anchor organisations to support local activities that mitigate the impact of the Covid19 pandemic. Over £250,000 has been awarded to nine organisations that cover the ward area.

Cllr Ian Cockburn: 'Collaboration'.
Cllr Ian Cockburn: 'Collaboration'.

Chair of the committee Cllr Ian Cockburn thanked him for his informative presentation and expressed his desire to see further close collaboration and extended an invitation for him to join future Committees.

He said: “The Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh ward covers a significant geographical area that has scattered settlements each with their own local economies. The response to the current crisis has required a concerted effort with enterprise and skills agencies, Business Gateway, the Council and business and community organisations all coming together. It has also, very importantly, given community organisations and volunteers a more active role and we cannot overestimate how important their input to the Covid response has been and will continue to be going forward.

“In order to tackle challenges and make the most of opportunities it is important we harness this spirit of collaboration and all continue to work together to make sure our communities get as much support and the best economic outcomes. We all share the goal of wanting to see sustainable, prosperous communities. My fellow ward members and I look forward to continuing to work closely with local businesses, community groups, council officials, HIE and other partners to continue with our efforts to encourage growth and to develop the economy and strengthen communities across the whole of Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh."

Related: Badachro distillery recognised for Covid-19 efforts

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Children's art promises to be a big draw at Ceilidh Place



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