Development Manager with Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Ian Philp, explains the various advantages of resettling in the Highlands and Islands.
What are the major projects currently underway in the Highlands and Islands that might attract Service-leavers to the area?
That is a very broad question! Major infrastructure projects include the roll-out of fibre broadband across the region; development of the Inverness UHI campus; ‘dualling’ of the A9; renewable energy projects and those in the oil and gas sector.
As the area stretches from the Campbeltown peninsula to Shetland and from the Outer Hebrides to Moray; this is also not straightforward to answer. The more rural parts of the region are typified by small to medium sized enterprises and a lot of self-employment.
The larger employers would include the public sector (NHS and local authorities in particular); BT and Calmac. There is a large and growing life sciences sector in the Inner Moray Firth area; the forestry sector and timber processing is still a big employer, particularly in the north and west. Within food and drink, the distilleries would be the bigger employers and of course we have the likes of Baxter’s and Walker’s. Aquaculture is a big employer on the west coast and in the Northern Isles and offers some excellent careers in those locations.
With such a wide geographic area do you find regional differences/identities take on significance? Do the different regions have things in common?
To an extent but not overly… The islands probably have the strongest identities and regional differences than differing areas of the mainland – but then my colleagues in Argyll or Moray might disagree!
Are ‘new settlers’ to the area likely to find opportunity within modern sectors such as ‘renewables’ or is there still growth in the Highlands and Islands’ traditional sectors –whisky, food, tourism?
There are good opportunities in young or growing industries such as renewable energy, life sciences and education but equally there is considerable growth and good opportunities in the more mature sectors such as food and drink, and tourism. The reputation of the Highlands for quality produce and the visitor experience and the mix of both in the growing number of high-quality, award-winning hotels means there are excellent opportunities for those able to supply the right offering.
Does being relatively under-populated make the region attractive or does it hinder people. I’d like to know what the impact is on house prices and school provision etc?
The population size in the rural areas has positives as well as negatives. For some, the lack of crowds and quieter roads are a great attraction. The perception of a more sedate lifestyle without busy commutes or crowded shops is a big reason why many people relocate here. On the other hand, it can bring limitations. Services are stretched to cover a dispersed population. A smaller population means there is less market demand for certain things so people have to travel further to access facilities like large supermarkets and cinemas. Similarly, high schools are more dispersed and are smaller than their urban counterparts. However, this can bring benefits in terms of teacher to pupil ratios and indeed, Highlands and Islands schools produce some very good results.
The large number of retired, semi-retired and second home owners who have bought properties in the region has raised prices, but compared to other parts of the UK the region is generally very affordable. The region is known for its spectacular scenery, so obviously properties in good locations do attract a premium. Many parts of the Highlands retain genuine community spirit; something which is arguably decreasing in many areas. It is the sort of place where most people know each other and while some might find this a little overbearing at times, there is a real sense of community.
What are the main reasons (economic and social) that Service-leavers should resettle in the region?
I think that question contains the answer – economic and social. This is a great part of the world to find a good work-life balance. Many Service-leavers enjoy the outdoor life and the opportunities to indulge passions for activities here is second to none. We have mountains, rivers, lochs and the coast which are perfect for recreation. The region is home to many fantastic restaurants serving excellent local produce. Almost every community has a vibrant social scene and there is a real passion for live music. The Highlands and Islands is one of Europe’s top tourism destinations so there are clearly advantages to living within it.
There are great opportunities for people with vision and an entrepreneurial spark. Employment opportunities are growing and diversifying all the time. The roll out of superfast broadband across the region is opening up new opportunities and with modern airports throughout the region it is easier than ever to travel. It is a great, safe place to bring up a family too.
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