TALKS on a potential multi-million pound growth fund bid to expand Moray’s economy are about to begin.
Councillors have approved proposals that could see funding from Westminster and the Scottish Government to help develop employment and commercial opportunities.
Similar financing has been provided through City Deals to Aberdeen and Inverness.
Officials are putting together a blueprint that will create a lasting legacy and allow Moray to flourish.
One project already underway is the business park at Barmuckity on the outskirts of Elgin, where up to 4000 jobs could be created.
The local authority has pledged to work across political paries to maximise success for the growth fund application.
Announcing the bid at a meeting of the full council last week, convener James Allan, Conservative councillor for Heldon and Laich, described it as one of the most ambitious investment projects ever launched in Moray.
Cllr Allan said: "For many years, we have recognised the unique assets which Moray enjoys in terms of our physical environment, our internationally renowned businesses and our diverse communities.
"We do not see Moray as a rural hinterland, and we should approach this investment from the perspective that Moray has a unique, valid and profitable opportunity to capitalise on the growth fund programme.
"The extensive work done by officers over the past year has now created the potential for Moray to attract significant financial support from the Scottish and UK Governments for this programme, whilst also leveraging in funding from local industry and commerce.
"This growth deal provides a platform from which we can look ahead to 2030, to a time when we are recognised as a thriving and vibrant region with the infrastructure, housing and skills to enable our key industries to flourish.
"The impact of that change would be enjoyed for decades."
Moray Council will run a consultation between July and September giving people the opportunity to say what projects they think deserve a slice of the funding.
Retaining people aged 16 to 29 years old in the region through higher-paid jobs, increasing the amount of young women in the area, improving infrastructure and addressing the gender pay gap are already in the authority’s vision.
Graham Leadbitter, SNP councillor for Elgin South stressed the need for co-operation.
He said: "I don’t think there’s any doubt that there is a cross-party consensus that we’re making a growth deal bid.
"There might be some discussion about the nitty-gritty of it, but the principal is well supported.
"The SNP are fully supportive of a cross-party approach to that in a similar way we did with the save RAF Lossiemouth campaign, that worked very well.
"I certainly think we should be making sure we have the broadest possible consensus.
"The image of going together to speak with ministers whether at Westminster or the Scottish Government, that has an impact on them because they can see the community is behind the bid."
Independent councillor for Heldon and Laich John Cowe, who is also chairman of the council’s economic development and infrastructure committee and the Moray Economic Partnership backed the move.
He said: "Overall, our economy has performed strongly in recent years, with our population growing and employment levels higher than in many comparable authorities.
"We have made a number of noteworthy major infrastructure investments such as our flood prevention schemes and new schools, but constraints on public sector funding have inevitably affected our ability to invest at the desired level in some key areas like roads and affordable housing.
"This is something that requires all councillors of all parties to work together on, because if successful this bid will provide bedrock upon which Moray’s economy can continue to grow well into the future".