Net zero funding for Highlands and Islands

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Tourism businesses, communities and social enterprises are set to benefit from £1.47m of net zero transition funding being distributed by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

The investment will support the delivery of nine different projects from across the region, including new visitor facilities, services and installations at mountain resorts, as well as investment to reduce carbon impacts at key visitor sites and buildings.

The financial support is being distributed by HIE on behalf of the Scottish Government, which has pledged £3.95m to help Scotland’s tourism industry be greener and more sustainable. This net zero commitment is one of 10 areas of priority within the £25m Scottish Tourism Recovery Programme.

In one of the projects, HIE is working closely with community groups across some of the most rural destinations, on the installation of EV charging points. The additional funding will help to ensure this vital service for our net zero future will be available across all parts of the Highlands and Islands.

The support will also contribute to a range of projects led by communities and social enterprises to invest in new bike infrastructure and trails, as well as increased availability of EV bike charging points and EV bicycles for use by visitors and the local community.

Anna Miller, head of tourism for HIE, said: ‘This is additional investment to support tourism projects deliver and enhance net zero benefits for local communities and their visitors.

‘The tourism industry recognises the need to consider ways to reduce carbon emissions and to develop new experiences for visitors that are looking for sustainable and green approaches. This investment forms one part of the regional commitment to net zero and responsible tourism.’

Scottish Government Tourism Minister, Ivan McKee said: ‘With less than a month to go until COP26, this funding will help tourism businesses the length and breadth of the Highlands and Islands to deliver on our net zero targets, reduce carbon emissions and develop innovative experiences for visitors.

‘It is short-term recovery funding, and part of a wider £25 million package of support, that will reap benefits for all of Scotland’s tourism industry as we move towards slower, greener and more sustainable tourism.’

Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston, the Scottish Conservative’s spokesman on business and enterprise, said half of the region’s businesses had yet to take any action to decarbonise.

‘Scotland has committed to reach net zero by 2045, but these targets will not be met unless business is given the advice and support it needs. There are still too many which, for whatever reasons, are not engaging yet with the process.

‘Citizens’ Advice Scotland found in May of this year that 52 per cent of Scotland’s SMEs have taken no action to decarbonise as yet, while Highlands and Islands Enterprise said progress in our region was a “mixed picture”.

‘There is also the issue of how businesses balance recovery from the pandemic and the need to progress to net zero, with the Federation of Small Businesses warning that businesses currently in “survival mode” would clearly find it harder to focus on decarbonisation.

Mr Halcro Johnston added: ‘Businesses can’t be expected to modernise if the basic infrastructure they need to do so is lacking.

‘It’s all very well encouraging them to engage more digitally, but if broadband capacity where they’re based isn’t up to the job then that’s a non-starter.

‘Too often, despite 14 years of promises from SNP ministers, access to fast and reliable broadband remains patchy at best. We need to see progress from the Scottish Government on the roll-out of broadband in rural Scotland.’