Scotland National Strategy for Economic Transformation: Regional Economic Partnerships - evidence

This Paper provides summary evidence received from Scotland's Regional Economic Partnerships as part of the National Strategy for Economic Transformation engagement process.

6. Highlands and Islands Region

Figure 6.1 – GVA of the Highlands and Islands [11]
Figure 6.1 - Shows the GVA in millions of pounds for the Highlands and islands  Region over 2009 to 2019
Figure 6.2 – Employment of the Highlands and Islands [12]
Figure 6.2 – Shows the Employment of the Highlands and islands region over 2009-2019

Regional Aspirations to 2030

The Highlands and Islands Region aspires to:

  • be a world-renowned net zero and fair work region, maximising economic and community benefit from strategic opportunities arising from our distinctive natural, cultural and built assets and through a continuation of a strong place-based approach.
  • a more prosperous, inclusive and sustainable region attracting more people to live, work, study, invest and visit.

Regional Opportunities

The region has sectoral opportunities in Energy; Blue Economy; Food and Drink; Tourism; Space and Aerospace; Life Sciences; and Creative Industries. These include:

  • continuing to develop the region's renewable capability: Offshore Wind (with particular focus on Floating); Hydrogen; Energy Hubs; Marine Energy (wave and tidal); Heat Decarbonisation; and Local Energy Systems;
  • with almost two-thirds of the UK's coastline and coastal waters, pursuing the potential for the region to be world leaders in the relatively new industries within the blue economy and developing the region's world class marine science and innovation;
  • accelerating technology adaptation, building resilience and transitioning to net zero in our food and drink sector;
  • establishing the region as a low carbon destination, capitalising on the growing demand for our region's natural assets and outdoor tourism, and building resilience, promoting quality and fair work;
  • unique geography which is very attractive to the commercial satellite launch sector, hence developing substantial economic activity and inward investment from the space and aerospace supply chain into the region;
  • accelerating human and animal health industry opportunities in the region; and
  • growing the creative industries, building on our region's many renowned cultural, natural and heritage assets and maximising the role of the Gaelic language.
  • many cross-cutting opportunities for economic growth and wellbeing for the region through our natural capital; authenticity, provenance and heritage; advanced manufacturing and technology; and, remote working.

Regional Challenges

There are common challenges across the region, some of which arise from or are exacerbated by the region's complex geography which includes almost 100 inhabited islands and forms 51% of the land mass of Scotland. These include:

  • access to critical enabling infrastructure investment in digital, transport, housing, energy, education, and innovation to deliver the region's ambitions;
  • access to a highly skilled workforce critical to increasing business productivity, delivering infrastructure projects, transitioning to net zero, as well as attracting investment into the Region;
  • high cost of doing business, e.g., transportation, energy and supplies costs;
  • retaining and attracting population and talent across the region, particularly in areas experiencing significant decline e.g. the Outer Hebrides, Argyll and the Islands, Arran and Cumbrae, and Caithness and Sutherland;
  • adequate public service provision e.g. in child and social care; and,
  • constraints to supply chains, which are impacting on economic recovery.

Ongoing and Planned Activity for Region

The following are ongoing or planned economic activity:


  • Given anticipated rapid scaling of offshore wind activity in response to current and future ScotWind and INTOG leasing rounds, HIE, UHI and Energy Skills Partnership are actively expanding Global Offshore Wind training and certification, and advanced manufacturing training capability within UHI colleges (incl. industry-led provision), to meet demand for a skilled offshore wind workforce.
  • HIE, Local Authorities and Scottish Government are working with industry to secure affordable and timely grid capacity, and address other barriers to deployment. Partners are engaged in cluster development to stimulate innovation and supply chain development in key areas such as offshore wind, hydrogen, heat decarbonisation and energy systems and continuing to build on the region's lead on marine energy through Wave Energy Scotland, EMEC and technology deployment.

Food and Drink

  • The current focus is on supporting a rapid and sustainable recovery. The HiPLAN pilot will test if a data-driven, open logistics platform can reduce costs, increase productivity and competitiveness, improve supply chain resilience and reduce carbon emissions.
  • Further key investments within growth deals include a food tech hub and aquaculture innovation and development.

Creative Industries

  • the UHI/HIE LevelUp! programme targets work readiness in students, provide greater access to industry and retain regional talent. XpoNorth is delivering key support across the sector.

Life Sciences

  • Innovation is being driven through engagement with universities, Innovation Centres, DataLab, CENSIS etc. with new developments underway e.g. the Rural and Veterinary Innovation Centre and Life Sciences Innovation Centre. HIE, NHS Highland and SFT are developing a new collaborative approach to infrastructure invstment in the region.


  • The Scottish Space Leadership Council (Space Scotland) has finalised the Scottish Space strategy which identifies key workstreams to be progressed jointly by public and private sectors, with a current focus on developing launch-site capability alongside manufacturing and innovation to enable sectoral growth.

Construction and Manufacturing

  • The new Inverness College and UHI Make It Smart Hub and West Highland College UHI Advancing Manufacturing Centre are supporting employers in the region access innovation and specialist support, with a Manufacturing Innovation Centre Moray planned.

Community Wealth Building

  • North Ayrshire, the Outer Hebrides and Moray are progressing plans for anchor institutions that will work with communities and businesses to build a stronger, more resilient local economy, promote fair work, local spend, democratic ownership models and to use land and assets for the wider common good.


  • Local Employability Partnerships are being strengthened to deliver a range of interventions and partners are taking a collaborative approach to ensure we have a skills system responsive to changing demands by working together on the delivery of the refreshed Highlands and Islands Skills Action Plan 2019-2023. This includes new academic pathways; expanding work-based learning; developing and expanding transition training and upskilling & reskilling within the workplace.



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