Positive progress continues to be made 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 area – Scotland’s second largest council area with the highest number of inhabited islands (23).
After reviewing progress, Nick 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 Cooperative 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 successful 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.”