As 2020 draws to a close, ONE's chair Sir Ian Wood shares his thoughts on the year and looks ahead to 2021.
This time last year, concepts such as “lockdowns” and “social distancing” were unknown. Today they are part of our everyday language as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to impact all aspects of our lives.
The roll out of the biggest vaccination programme in the history of the UK offers us hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel and the focus of public discourse is turning toward the unprecedented economic challenges presented by the virus.
We don’t underestimate the challenges ahead, and the impact upon our region, as we enter a new year. Opportunity North East (ONE) will play its role in overcoming these challenges. This region has demonstrated that our people and businesses are adaptable, agile and resilient and these strengths and qualities will be tested to their full in the year ahead.
ONE and its partners have a clear ambition to diversify the regional economy and transform Aberdeen and the North East of Scotland into a globally integrated energy cluster, focused on accelerating net zero through energy transition activities.
There is no doubt the region is uniquely positioned within the UK to take advantage of this massive opportunity. With proven global expertise in delivering large, complex projects offshore and onshore, it has the infrastructure, business capability and world-class talent pool to create significant investment and employment opportunities.
ONE will continue to champion the development of the Energy Transition Zone, a crucial project that will create opportunities for our supply chain in offshore wind, hydrogen and CCUS, alongside supporting more carbon efficient oil and gas production as we continue to extract maximum value from existing North Sea assets.
Our region has made an invaluable contribution to the UK’s energy requirements over the last 50 years and, with the backing of government and industry alike, we can now add to this with a significant contribution to the net-zero objective. Beyond energy, there has been rapid progress in transformational projects supported by ONE as we continue to diversify the region’s offering and support sustainable economic growth.
2021 will see critical milestones reached in the delivery of transformational projects across all our key sectors.
The £40m BioHub project to double the size of the life sciences company cluster moves into its main construction phase in 2021. The new-build facility on the Foresterhill Health Campus will provide specialist support programmes and dedicated laboratory, collaboration and office accommodation for established and growing life sciences businesses, start-ups and spinouts.
The sector’s profile is high and continues to grow with record levels of investor interest. Life sciences is a health and economic priority. The work in businesses, labs and hospital wards is essential to national recovery and the post-COVID economy, which will be driven by innovation and provide high-value jobs and new careers for young people.
The £21m SeedPod project will give businesses a head start in creating foods of the future and capitalising on global consumer trends.
SeedPod will be a critical regional and national asset that will help businesses to increase the size and value of food and drink production and exports.
SeedPod’s programmes and facilities will accelerate the adoption of advanced manufacturing and use global market insights to inspire businesses to respond to emerging and on-trend foods of the future opportunities. The product development facilities and expertise will drive the premiumisation of the region's produce.
Project delivery is progressing at pace. The concept and detailed design stages are complete, and technical design development is ongoing. The Food Hub (NES) board, chaired by Patrick Machray OBE, has approved the start of the procurement process for the main contractor and will move ahead with planning in the new year.
The region's ports receive almost 60% of Scotland's seafood landings, and the £700m turnover processing sector employs more than 4,000 people in our coastal communities.
An ambitious £77m industry-led five-year action and investment plan – the Seafood Transformation Project (STP) – aims to create at least 900 new jobs, expand industry turnover by a third and radically improve productivity and margins. It will create a sustainable and market-oriented industry that attracts people and investment.
The STP business case, funded by ONE and the Scottish Government, was developed during the year with industry and partners including leading seafood processors, Scottish Government, Aberdeenshire Council, Seafood Scotland, Scotland Food and Drink, Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Seafood Association. The business case is now with the Scottish Government and UK Government, and the project is attracting partners and funding for the delivery of short-term priority actions to lay the foundations and build momentum for the main project.
ONE Tech Hub is a beacon for digital in north east Scotland – the place to create and scale tech companies. The pace of digital adoption across, business, the health sector and our personal lives has accelerated rapidly and the digital tech sector is predicted to be one of the fastest growing in Scotland. This creates foundations for new growth and opportunities as well as facilitating growth across other business sectors.
It’s vital we continue to catalyse and grow the vibrant digital economy in north east Scotland. SkyScanner co-founder Mark Logan described ONE CodeBase as an exemplar environment for tech start-ups in his recent Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review for the Scottish Government in which he outlined the priorities for the sector. He also endorsed ONE’s action and investment to help achieve the digital sector growth ambition.
Tourism has largely fallen victim to the global pandemic and these uncertain times continue into 2021 for the sector and hospitality businesses. Across government at all levels, locally and nationally, the decisions that have been made to protect the health of our population have hit this sector and all the supporting industries very hard. This includes business and leisure events, culture and creative arts, performances and activities, and the ability to relax and enjoy time with our family and friends in restaurants and hotels.
However, the demand for the great outdoors and access to activities both in the countryside and on our coast is growing from our local communities and visitors. The region is targeting green growth in adventure tourism as part of the long-term economic recovery plan for the sector. The North East Adventure Tourism (NEAT) project aims to increase the value of adventure tourism in the region – already worth £75m a year – with new land-based and coastal activities, events and marketing. NEAT will also increase the amenities available to residents and communities, contributing to the attractiveness of the region and its future wellbeing economy. The successful development of the market to 2030 could create a further 500 jobs and secure an additional £120m to £160m in visitor spend.
In conclusion, we know that recovery will come. We need to make it as fast as we can and the best we can for our people and communities. Get it right, and businesses in this region will be at the forefront of energy transition and digital advances; developing new therapies and digital health solutions; catching, producing and selling on-trend foods of the future to high-margin international markets; and providing visitors with unique experiences based on our distinctive natural environment and authentic food and drink.
In this extraordinary year, please stay safe and well this Christmas and New Year. On behalf of all of the ONE board members and team, thank you for all your support, we look forward to working with you in 2021.
Sir Ian Wood KT GBE
Chair, Opportunity North East
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