Wednesday, 10 October 2012

HIE appoints director to lead on broadband and digital economy

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is stepping up its efforts to ensure that businesses and communities across the region are able to harness the benefits of digital communications, including next generation broadband (NGB). Stuart Robertson, currently the development agency's Head of Digital and Broadband, as well as its Area Manager for Shetland, is to take on a new, dedicated role as Director of Digital Highlands and Islands. The appointment signals HIE's commitment both to rolling out the telecoms infrastructure to deliver next generation broadband to every part of the region, and promoting the important role digital technology will play in the coming years to grow businesses and strengthen communities. Chief Executive Alex Paterson said the post had been created to provide greater focus and leadership to unlock the region's potential in the global digital economy. "The economic future of the Highlands and Islands is digital," said Mr Paterson. "Technology is an enabler, touching every sector of society, from private businesses to public service providers, and underpinning our ability to compete with other regions and countries around the world. "As well as establishing the infrastructure, HIE is working to help businesses gain the understanding and skills they need to harness the power of new digital technology to drive economic growth. "NGB will be a game changer, and HIE has been leading the drive to secure access for all parts of the Highlands and Islands for some years now. "It's a fact of life that the telecoms companies won't invest in sparsely populated areas where they'll be unable to make a profit, so public support is essential to ensure that rural and island communities don't get left behind. "Rollout has already started to happen in some communities and we want to help accelerate that process and spread it out to reach every community. "Stuart's appointment will provide the expertise and focus we need to drive this project forward effectively over the coming years, and I'm delighted we've been able to appoint him to this vital role." HIE established a Digital team in 2010, and has succeeded in attracting very substantial public investment for next generation broadband. The Scottish Government announced in June this year that £120m had been allocated for infrastructure funding. A further £5m was allocated in August to establish Community Broadband Scotland, to be administered by HIE and support projects across the country from 2013. With regional NGB rollout costs estimated at £200-300m, the agency is seeking major private sector co-investment and is currently in dialogue with BT, as the final phase of a Europe-wide procurement exercise. All going well, HIE expects to reach agreement with BT by the end of 2012, which will enable rollout to get under way on schedule next year. Mr Robertson said he was delighted to be appointed as HIE's Director of Digital Highlands and Islands. "It's very exciting to be part of a project which will have lasting impact and deliver benefits to people across more than half of Scotland," he said. "HIE has spelt out our commitment to help achieve Scotland's 2015 and 2020 targets for broadband, and we've already made encouraging progress in attracting high levels of investment. "Creating the conditions for a digital Highlands and Islands isn't all about infrastructure. It's also about making sure our businesses and communities are able to reap the full benefits which digital technology can offer. "There are some serious challenges which the region has to face in the years ahead – technical, geographical and financial hurdles which we need to find ways to overcome. "However the prize of a truly digital region, able to compete internationally, attract new investment and support a broad range of modern businesses, is well worth fighting for. "I'm really looking forward to working with colleagues across HIE and with partners in national and local government and the private sector to make the vision of a digital region a reality." Rachel Hunter, currently Senior Development Manager with HIE in Shetland, will take on the role of Acting Area Manager while a permanent successor to Mr Robertson is recruited. Stuart Robertson was born and brought up in Lerwick in Shetland. After graduating from the University of Aberdeen he worked for BP Exploration in Shetland and Aberdeen. He left BP in 1991 to complete an MBA at Strathclyde Graduate Business School, Glasgow, where his MBA thesis was an evaluation of the pioneering Highlands and Islands Telecommunications Project for Highlands and Islands Enterprise. He joined HIE in 1993 and since then has been involved in all HIE’s telecoms development activities. In 2009 he was appointed as the agency's Area Manager for Shetland. Stuart is married with four sons.