Highland Council Leader Cllr Raymond Bremner has said that by securing freeport status the region has an unmissable opportunity to avoid a “modern day Highland clearance.”
The Leader was the keynote speakers yesterday at the Scotsman newspaper’s Highlands and Islands Green Energy Conference at the Kingsmills Hotel, Inverness.
He said that green energy offers Highland new hope and opportunities to provide future generations with the opportunity to develop a highly skilled career without having to leave the region.
And the award of Green Freeport status (Inverness and Cromarty Freeport) provides Highland with an opportunity to attract over £2billion in inward investment.
The Leader told conference delegates that Highland is well placed to create up to 25,000 new jobs across various sectors, from manufacturing servicing the offshore energy sector to green hydrogen production for domestic and industrial use across the UK and beyond.
In his keynote speech Cllr Bremner said:
“It is impossible to dispute Highland’s legacy in energy generation, a legacy that continues to deliver a highly skilled and sought-after workforce, who over the past two decades, have brought their skills to energy projects around the globe.
“While our young workforce still gravitates to the energy industry, for too long they leave school expecting to join a mobile workforce seeking careers on distant shores far from their Highland homes.
“Today we have the chance to stop a modern-day Highland clearance and an opportunity to reverse this trend by offering opportunities for highly-skilled, well-paid jobs in an area that provides a quality of life that rivals anywhere in the world.”
The Council has confirmed its ambitions for energy development through recent work on the development of solar and battery storage projects across the region and the completion of studies on the potential for the growth of heat networks in Inverness and across Highland.
In terms of the widely recognised movement to a ‘Just Transition’ Cllr Bremner sees an opportunity for fresh jobs in Highland and the potential for a transformational transition from oil to the green sector.
“We need to be at the forefront of re-skilling the local workforce to adapt to the demands of Net Zero.
“We need to engage with senior school pupils around new skills and ensuring the training is available to start their career path into the green energy future.
“By investing in skills, working people, and communities we can create a workforce for a sustainable economy in the green energy sector.”
Last year Highland Council was invited to submit an investment plan to the UK Shared Prosperity Fund is one part of this Levelling Up agenda.
Earlier this year, the local authority gained government approval for a £1million investment in skills.
The Leader commented:
“The criteria of this fund are that it must support local areas to fund local skills needs, and importantly, green skills.
“We know businesses across various sectors find it challenging to secure the green skills training they need locally for their staff.
“In the housing sector alone, we as a Council struggle with a local workforce able to deliver fundamental green skills, such as external wall insulation, air-source heat pumps and solar and battery storage.
“With around 128,000 homes in the Highlands, most will require one or more of these interventions in the next ten years.
“There currently isn’t a workforce available to meet the demand and we want to start addressing this.”
The Council is currently discussing with business representatives, Skills Development Scotland, UHI and HIE about how best to target these funds.
Cllr Bremner continued:
“While the initial funding is finite and demand is great, we intend to use part of the funding to run a Skills Challenge Fund.
“I am inviting employers and training providers to apply for funds to deliver training here in Highland, which is not currently available and accessible by our businesses.
“This is a means of stimulating collaboration between local businesses and training providers to build training capacity here in the Highlands to help other companies develop the green skills that will help accelerate the Highlands towards net zero.”
The Challenge Fund will open later this month and the Council will be issuing the call for applications via social media, the website and in the press.
The Highland Council Leader concluded:
“For too long, the Highlands has provided energy to the rest of the UK with little local benefit.
“We have the opportunity now to change that.
“Through collaboration, we can make Highland a global leader within the green energy sector.
“We have a vision of prosperous Highland communities where fuel poverty is no longer an issue, and we have low-carbon transport links across the Region.
“We exemplify the net zero agenda.
“Living and working across the Highlands.
“We want you to be part of that journey.”