THE economic impact of energy giant SSE's electrical distribution business in the north of Scotland has been highlighted by an independent report.

The operations of Scottish Hydro Electric Power Distribution (SHEPD) support about 540 jobs in the supply chain, as well as 530 through the money spent by its 790 directly employed staff.

PwC, which carried out the report, measured the total contribution made by SHEPD to Scottish GDP at £287 million, after examining the impact made by SHEPD activity over a broad geo-graphical area.

SHEPD's operations in the north of Scotland span the major cities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Perth and Inverness, smaller towns such as John O'Groats and as many as 89 Scottish islands, ranging from Arran to Orkney and Shetland.

Of the GDP total, the survey found £236m was directly generated, accounting for 9.7 per cent of the entire Scottish electricity sector, with £25m coming from the supply chain.

A further £26m was con-tributed through the spending of employees.

PWC said the manufacturing sector was the biggest beneficiary in terms of jobs created by SHEPD's operations, accounting for 100 of the 540 generated in the supply chain.

The company serves some 740,000 customers in the north of Scotland.

Mark Mathieson, SSE's managing director of Networks, said: "Providing the best possible service to our customers in the north of Scotland requires careful investment and that's why we have invested £126m this year in our Scottish network to increase its resilience.

"Besides having this positive impact, I am really proud of the fact we are a living wage employer and have just been accredited with the Fair Tax Mark for the way we transparently pay tax to the government - all of which amounts to a positive impact on the economy, our consumers and employees."

Meanwhile, SSE's net-works business has awarded its largest ever living wage contract to engineering firm ABB Limited.

The contract, worth £460m, is part of the Caithness to Moray transmission project.

The new subsea link, which will feature more than 100 miles of underground and subsea cable, will allow more renewable energy to feed into the network in the north of Scotland.

SSE declared the contract, which will support at least 600 jobs, is the largest ever living wage deal in Scotland to date.

SSE chief executive Alistair Phillips-Davies said: "Just over a year ago, SSE became the first energy company to be a living wage employer and remains the only energy supplier to do so.

"SSE is proud to play its part when it comes to being a responsible business and one which helps build a fairer, more prosperous Scotland."

ABB has been contracted to design, engineer, supply and commission an HVDC (high voltage direct current) system running between converter stations at Spittal in Caithness and Blackhillock, near Keith, in Moray.