At its meeting on 24 June, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar approved a Plan to aid the recovery of the economy of the Outer Hebrides.
The Plan, developed in partnership with Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), focuses on three key areas that will be critical to the future of the economy – a community recovery, a green recovery and a digital recovery. Under each of these themes a range of actions have been identified with implementation of these actions being rolled out progressively over the next period.
The Recovery Plan sees collaboration with key sectors of the economy as being a critical component of the recovery and as such a series of economic forums will be established to gather industry intelligence and to allow the private sector to help influence and focus the direction of recovery efforts. A high-level Outer Hebrides wide economic forum is anticipated with forums in Barra, Uist and Harris to ensure recovery efforts are being prioritised across all the islands.
Cllr. Roddie MacKay, Leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said: “The public health crisis sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic has also resulted in an economic crisis due to the lockdown and related social distancing measures. Across the Outer Hebrides it has been and remains an extremely difficult time for many businesses and for the staff that work in these businesses. The Comhairle and HIE have sought to be proactive in support of businesses by delivering the various Government support schemes and developing a local, tailored support package for any business that may have been ineligible for the Government schemes”.
Mr MacKay continued, “With the prospects of lockdown beginning to ease the time is right to begin thinking about the future and the recovery of the economy. I believe there is an opportunity for us to begin to rethink, to reimagine and to reform the economy of the Outer Hebrides. It will be important that the recovery is inclusive and that it seeks to grow stronger, more resilient communities across the Outer Hebrides. I think it will be critical that our recovery efforts seek to build capacity within communities and that the concepts of localism are at the forefront of what we do. We need to find new ways to positively prioritise local supply chains and local procurement for the benefit of local businesses and local communities”.
Rachel MacKenzie, HIE’s Area Manager for the Outer Hebrides, said: “The Recovery Plan is highly focused on areas that will be critical to the future well-being of the local economy and local communities. There is an opportunity in the economic recovery effort for a new kind of local economy. In our own fragile economy, we are seeking to support the development of local economic recovery and reform our plans and ways of working. Our focus will also be on a “Green Recovery” seeking to maximise the Outer Hebrides unrivalled renewable energy resources, moving the Hebrides towards Net Zero Carbon, while simultaneously looking to develop a set of climate change mitigations and adaptations.
In the post-Covid economy working methods will change, with home-working, remote working and on-line delivery of services becoming a feature of all our lives. “Digital Recovery” is therefore critical to ensure that the Outer Hebrides have a level digital playing field from which to operate. We need to ensure high speed digital infrastructure is available to every domestic property and every business premises and that we are innovative in using that infrastructure to stimulate new business opportunity”.
Mrs MacKenzie also emphasised the essential role of the Economic Forum: “I think the establishment of an Economic Forum and local Forums will be critical to the implementation of the overall strategy. We are keen to work with businesses in all our island communities to ensure the strategy is delivered in a way that works for each island area. The Comhairle and HIE are also keen to engage with all sectors of the economy – from tourism and construction through to primary sector producers – to ensure we fully understand issues as sectors emerge from lockdown and are developing policy and actions to make that transition and smooth and successful as possible.”