Boosting the economy and supporting communities will be UK Government Minister for Scotland John Lamont’s focus as he visits Scotland’s west coast this week.

Starting Monday (July 31), the Minister will begin a five day visit of engagement with Scottish businesses, community groups and North Ayrshire council about the opportunities and challenges they face.

He will see how UK Government funding is helping communities on the mainland and the islands of Mull and Arran and will discuss how it, alongside local partners, can provide further support.

UK Government Minister for Scotland John Lamont said:

“I’m eager to see and hear for myself the opportunities and challenges faced by people living and working on Mull, Arran and the west coast of Scotland.

“I know rural areas have many particular issues of concern such as cost of living, affordable housing and connectivity and I’m looking forward to chatting with local communities and businesses about how working together we can ensure local economies are growing and thriving .

“We are giving people financial security by halving inflation and growing the economy to create better paid jobs and opportunity right across the country, while reducing debt so that we can secure the future of public services.

“We are investing more than £2.4 billion to level up all areas of Scotland, with Argyll and Bute and North Ayrshire receiving £31 million and £72 million respectively. This includes £23.4 million from the UK Government’s Levelling Up Fund to improve connectivity in North Ayrshire with upgrades to the B174. It will be great to see this investment in action and get thoughts on what else can be done to improve people’s lives.”


At Cruachan Power Station, near Dalmally in Argyll, he will hear from Drax about its renewable energy operation. The Minister will speak about the UK Government’s commitment to helping the sector use alternative, clean resources, in the drive to net zero.  He will see the dam as well as the underground power station which sits in a huge cavern inside the mountain Ben Cruachan, also known as “Hollow Mountain”, which the makers of Star Wars TV series Andor used last year for on-location shooting.

He’ll also visit the nearby Scottish Sea Farms’ Barcaldine salmon hatchery – recently awarded £5 million from the UK Government Seafood Fund – to learn more about how one of Scotland’s most famous exports is becoming more sustainable and innovative and sustaining hundreds of jobs, including 103 apprenticeships.  Fisheries will also be on the agenda as he meets members of the Community Inshore Fisheries Alliance in Oban to learn more about their work and importance of the sector to coastal communities and the rural economy.

While in Oban he will also meet with the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) to discuss how the UK Government’s Community Renewal Fund (£407,715) is supporting the Seaweed Academy, and its importance in bringing high-skilled jobs to the area. The Minister will hear how the Argyll and Bute Growth Deal, backed by £25 million each from the UK and Scottish governments, could see the creation of a skills and research and development centre.

On the Isle of Mull, the Minister will visit Inverlussa Mussels – which earlier this month was awarded £200,000 through the UK Government’s Seafood Fund. Based at Loch Spelve from where it produces up to 500 tons of mussels per year, it has often been voted Scotland’s best mussel producer. The Minister will hear about the farm’s plans to upgrade the mussel farm and shore-based hub with renewable energy supply. Also on the agenda from the food and drink sector is a meeting with Isle of Mull Cheese which has diversified into producing Isle of Mull Spirits.

Mull and Iona Community Trust (MICT) will showcase their work to improve the quality of life for residents, including delivering community development projects – such as transport and local, affordable home building schemes which are helping to keep Ulva Primary School open. And he’ll hear from Tobermory Harbour Association about its plans to transform the Aros Waterfront site into an outdoor activity hub to create a hub for community well-being, educational opportunities, and tourism.

At TSL Contractors, Craignure, the discussion with the employer will include access to labour and population retention on the island. And at Nonhebel Park (Tobermory Light Industrial Park), he’ll hear about the site’s 100% occupancy rate and expansion plans. The Minister will meet Royal Mail to discuss the impact of ferry reliability on delivering post to Scotland’s island communities – and its plans for 50 new ‘postal drone routes’ over the next three years.

On Arran he’ll meet the community-led Arran Development Trust to get a better sense of the governance issues islanders face. The Minister will see the trust’s housing project in Lamlash which will provide homes for key workers. The Minister will also hear from North Ayrshire Council about its Islands Recovery and Renewal Pilot partnership and how it has facilitated the development of the first Arran Local Island Plan to boost the economic, community and environmental wellbeing of the population.

And he will meet with the Arran Community and Voluntary Service to discuss some of the work carried out by more than 120 groups operating on Arran. These include the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) who have campaigned to stop fishing that damages the island’s seabeds and introduce a more sustainable industry. The Arran Eco Savvy Community charity will tell him how it is working to reduce Arran’s carbon footprint, supporting residents and local businesses to greener lifestyles. Included will be an update on progress on the Islands Green Programme, which was supported by £456,000 from the UK Government Community Renewal Fund.

The Minister will visit the re-opened Lochranza Country Inn, which received £300,000 UK Government Community Ownership Fund for a local buyout of the last remaining inn in the village. There he will meet with the North Arran Community Benefit Society who run the Inn and see the renovations and repairs to bring the building up to standard and future-proof it for generations to come.

Back on the mainland, North Ayrshire Council will take the Minister on a tour of the area where he will see and hear about the opportunities and challenges facing the region, including successful government and local partner collaboration through the Ayrshire Growth Deal. He will hear about the new Ayrshire Regional Economic Strategy and vision for Ayrshire 2033.

Among the projects the Minister will visit is i3 Irvine. Investment – including £5m from the UK Government – will result in the creation of a Digital Processing Manufacturing Centre to provide a centre of excellence for digital automation. This will build on current life science clustering at the site, and will facilitate research and development activity.

He will also see B714 upgrade plans to significantly improve connectivity between the region and Glasgow, the central belt, wider motorway network and how it will improve journeys for road users travelling to the west coast and ferry links to Arran and Cumbrae. The project, which will substantially increase the potential for tourism and economic development, is being part funded through £23,693,443 awarded to North Ayrshire Council from the UK Government’s Levelling Up Fund.

And at the recently completed Lochshore Park Hub in the Garnock Valley, the Minister will hear about the outdoor activities and events within the parkland and plans to deliver environmental, economic, regeneration, health, mental health and social benefits to the community. At the hub he will have a more detailed conversation with the council on regeneration plans for North Ayrshire.

Published 31 July 2023