I am pleased to confirm that strong progress has been made in the development of the advanced manufacturing challenge fund. Approval for our plans has now been received from the managing authority which has overall responsibility for supervision and implementation of the European structural funds in Scotland. We have appointed Scottish Enterprise as the lead partner for programme delivery and an experienced and focused team is now in place to develop the fund’s detailed guidance and structures.
We are preparing to launch the fund in late spring or early summer. The fund will target up to £18 million of European regional development funding to support the provision of services for improving manufacturing productivity and efficiency.
Dounreay is a major employer in my constituency and the minister will be aware that it is in its decommissioning phase. What support from the economic action plan, which seeks to respond to the rapidly changing skills needs of businesses and employees, can be or is being offered to the workers and the supply chain in Caithness and north Sutherland?
The economic action plan sets out our ambition to ensure that Scotland has a skilled and productive workforce in the future and it includes an important focus on the skills needs of the existing workforce. This year, we will publish a future skills action plan to meet the opportunities and challenges presented by changes in the labour market and a new national retraining partnership will establish how best to support the upskilling, reskilling and development needs of the existing workforce.
The Scottish Government is an active member of the Caithness and North Sutherland regeneration partnership, which aims to address the socioeconomic effects of decommissioning at Dounreay. I am aware that Gail Ross is a member of the advisory board. The partnership is developing a local skills investment plan for the area with Skills Development Scotland, the Highland Council and the Caithness Chamber of Commerce. The plan will provide area-based information on appropriate skills and learning pathways to help individuals and employers implement workforce transition and reskilling opportunities.
Under the United Kingdom Government’s industrial strategy challenge fund, £4.7 billion is available for investment in research and development across the UK. What specific steps is the minister taking to ensure that the Scottish manufacturing sector will fully benefit from that unprecedented level of funding?
A range of activity is going on to encourage businesses in Scotland, be they small and medium-sized enterprises or larger businesses, to put forward bids in co-operation with academic institutions for money from the industrial strategy fund. That is happening across a range of sectors that I engage with, be it manufacturing or life sciences—where we have had some significant successes in getting money from that fund—or other sectors across the economy.