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The COVID-19 pandemic dominated 2020 and is still having a great impact globally and on our region. In 2020/21 HIE distributed over £40m of emergency support to c1700 businesses and community organisations, delivered through 13 Scottish Government and own-hand schemes.  Whilst some of this funding was to provide essential cashflow some support was more strategic. This included support for digital engagement, which was particularly helpful as business moved online, and the Young Company Investment Grant helping early-stage businesses. HIE dealt with many more clients than a typical year and this trend is set to continue as we support the region’s economic recovery. Recognising the importance of tourism to the Highlands and Islands, individual business assistance was enhanced by a £3m Destination Management recovery fund.

As we enter the new financial year, and with a new government in Holyrood, HIE’s plan for recovery is focused around three key areas:

  • Firstly, an ongoing emphasis on recovery with some parts of the region most exposed to the twin impacts of COVID and Brexit.
  • Secondly the need for a green recovery as Scotland moves to a net zero economy by 2045, and to hit the 75% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030. The regions strengths in renewables, forestry and peatland will be showcased as part of the COP26 discussions in Glasgow.
  • Thirdly the recovery must be based on the concept of fair work. This involves employers paying the real living wage, avoiding zero hours contracts, and promoting employee engagement.

The region’s prosperity, as always, depends on population growth, which makes good quality job creation, fair work and higher education for our young people vital.

While our immediate focus must be on recovery, we will continue to pursue and develop opportunities to deliver significant growth in the medium to long-term. Key sectors –  tourism, food and drink, renewables and the creative industries – will remain priorities for HIE, but new and evolving sectors like life sciences, space and the marine economy will also form firm foundations for future success and play a key role in a fair and green recovery.