Econ­omy is mak­ing ‘pos­i­tive progress’ in Argyll and Bute

The Oban Times - - News - LOUISE GLEN lglen@oban­

POS­I­TIVE progress is con­tin­u­ing to boost the econ­omy of Argyll and Bute – one of Scot­land’s most promis­ing re­gions – ac­cord­ing to Ni­cholas Fer­gu­son CBE, chair­man of Sav­ills, in his ca­pac­ity as chair­man of the Argyll and Bute Eco­nomic Fo­rum.

In its first re­port 12 months ago, the eco­nomic fo­rum made rec­om­men­da­tions for build­ing the econ­omy and re­vers­ing the pop­u­la­tion de­cline in the re­gion – Scot­land’s sec­ond largest coun­cil area with 23 in­hab­ited is­lands.

Mr Fer­gu­son said: ‘I have been hugely en­cour­aged by the very pos­i­tive progress that has been made, with the ma­jor­ity of the fo­rum’s rec­om­men­da­tions be­ing im­ple­mented.

‘ Work is be­ing car­ried out by the pri­vate sec­tor, by in­di­vid­ual busi­ness peo­ple and en­trepreneurs, by gov­ern­ment and, in par­tic­u­lar, Argyll and Bute Coun­cil, High­lands and Is­lands En­ter­prise and Argyll Col­lege.

‘Those dis­play­ing real en­ergy be­hind the work are to be com­mended.’

The eco­nomic fo­rum brings mem­bers of the area’s key busi­ness sec­tors, agen­cies and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of lo­cal and na­tional gov­ern­ment to­gether to drive for­ward eco­nomic progress in the area.

He con­tin­ued: ‘We rec­om­mended in our re­port that a shared vi­sion would be key to the area’s suc­cess. It has been clear in the year that has fol­lowed there is a grow­ing un­der­stand­ing among our coun­cil­lors, coun­cil of­fi­cers, MSPs, HIE, Scot­tish En­ter­prise and the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment of this vi­sion, and that they are work­ing to­gether. We still have work to en­sure this is fully un­der­stood and shared and work will con­tinue dur­ing 2017.

‘Marketing and pro­mot­ing the area has been reviewed by Argyll and the Isles Tourism Co- op­er­a­tive with the ef­fects be­ing seen this year, in­clud­ing pro­mot­ing Argyll and Bute as a pre­mier out­door ad­ven­ture des­ti­na­tion. Busi­ness Gate­way has de­liv­ered 18 world host work­shops and 200 peo­ple par­tic­i­pated in dig­i­tal tourism work­shops.

‘We have pushed for a stream­lin­ing of the plan­ning process, par­tic­u­larly in the aqua­cul­ture sec­tor. There is now a pro­posal to cut timescales from three years to 18 months, which is clearly a pos­i­tive step. We also hope that dis­cus­sions on es­tab­lish­ing a wood pel­let plant in the area will prove fruit­ful.

‘We con­tinue to en­cour­age lo­cal busi­nesses to visit our schools to help them ap­pre­ci­ate the range of lo­cal op­por­tu­ni­ties open to them. We await a de­ci­sion on the bid sub­mit­ted by the Re­gional De­vel­op­ing Young Work­force Group for a pro­gramme that fa­cil­i­tates long-term part­ner­ships be­tween schools, col­leges and em­ploy­ers to strengthen links be­tween ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment that cre­ates eco­nomic growth.

‘Argyll Col­lege has recog­nised the need to match cour­ses to em­ploy­ers’ needs and will be de­liv­er­ing cour­ses in tourism and ma­rine ser­vices, and work con­tin­ues with the Scot­tish As­so­ci­a­tion for Ma­rine Science (SAMS). The as­pi­ra­tion of Oban be­ing a univer­sity town has been grasped with stu­dent ac­com­mo­da­tion un­der con­struc­tion and there is even a sign dis­play­ing that fact now.

‘To help pro­vide fund­ing for small busi­nesses, the John No­ble Trust has in­creased its re­sources. At the very suc­cess- ful Argyll En­ter­prise Week, the coun­cil an­nounced fund­ing through its Busi­ness Gate­way Lo­cal Growth Ac­cel­er­a­tor and Ru­ral Re­set­tle­ment Funds to help en­cour­age peo­ple and busi­nesses to lo­cate here.

‘How­ever, there are still bar­ri­ers to fur­ther progress. Broad­band and mo­bile con­nec­tiv­ity, af­ford­able hous­ing and trans­port links such as the A83, fer­ries and air links re­main a chal­lenge. Work on pro­gress­ing these is­sues will be a crit­i­cal part of the fo­rum’s work.

‘We have a real ad­van­tage when it comes to grow­ing in­dus­tries in tourism and food and drink pro­duc­tion, and I am pleased that I can re­port that key agen­cies con­tinue to work closely in part­ner­ship to grow ex­ist­ing busi­nesses, at­tract peo­ple and new jobs to the area.’

Nick Fer­gu­son.

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