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The welcome has been warm across the political spectrum for the Rural Growth Deal for Argyll and Bute.
Work has been going on for the past three years by Argyll and Bute Council and partners to finalise a bid for a joint UK and Scottish-government funded scheme. This came to fruition at the beginning of October with the announcement of a £50million Rural Growth Deal – with £25million each coming from the Scottish Government and Westminster.
It is hoped that spending priorities under the Rural Growth Deal can be agreed with the two governments by the end of this year.
The council’s new policy lead for economic growth, Councillor Alastair Redman, hopes that the funding can further boost the ‘huge success story’ of the area’s economy.
Councillor Redman said: ‘This £50million investment from the UK and Scottish Governments is very welcome indeed and much needed.
‘There can be little doubt that our Argyll and Bute economy is a huge success story with key business sectors like food and drink. In particular our world-famous whisky and aquaculture industries, tourism, marine science, defence industries with a focus on engineering [are] all seeing the most potential for growth, but with this success comes many challenges.
‘The main priorities for Argyll and Bute with this new investment will be transport and infrastructure, skills and education, digital connectivity, housing and our growing low carbon economy.
‘While this investment will not resolve all of our constituency’s challenges relating to economic growth it is certainly a welcome step in the correct direction.’
The local authority intends to make more of the area’s natural and built resources and connect high value business sectors with international markets.
Council Leader, Councillor Aileen Morton, added that the deal represents ‘a transformational vote of confidence in the future of Argyll and Bute’.
The deal has been well received by Mid Argyll and Kintyre and the Islands council members. Councillor Dougie Philand said: ‘By providing attractive businesses, this should increase the skill base of our workforce to compete and retain staff which in turn will assist to keep people working and living in Argyll and Bute and assist future growth.
‘This is an exciting initiative and thanks must go to the UK and Scottish Government and Scottish local authorities for having confidence to invest in Argyll and Bute.’
Councillor Anne Horn commented: ‘I very much welcome the Rural Growth Deal monies for Argyll and Bute’
She added one note of caution: ‘At present I am without clarification whether any of the funding will be retained for Ministry of Defence plans for HMNB (Faslane) as this would impact on developing the priorities identified in the Rural Growth Deal bid.’
Councillor Donnie MacMillan added: ‘This is great news for Argyll and Bute.
‘We now need to agree priorities with the Scottish and UK governments and work with partners to develop detailed business cases. We will be exploring other sources of funding, so hopefully the total investment will work out much greater than the £50 million announced.’
‘Officers have worked really hard with others to get to this stage and I very much welcome the announcement,’ said Councillor Robin Currie.
‘Hopefully investment will be made in attracting more people to come to live in Argyll and Bute and for the people who remain or come to this area, that there are improvements in essential infrastructure, roads, transport, connectivity, housing and businesses.’
Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell said he was am delighted to see the deal come to fruition, having been ‘in at the beginning’ of the plans.
He said: ‘It is a unique opportunity for major improvements that will help every community and every resident in Argyll and Bute. I hope the necessary plans can be speeded up to allow money to start to flow as early as next year because the sooner we all see its effects, the better.
‘Such investment is vital because the key issue in this area is depopulation. Developing the infrastructure to allow business growth and improving communication are vital tasks which will determine the very survival of some communities and progress on these matters is, thankfully, now in sight.’