Weekly Updates for 2009

Week Commencing 21st December:

  • Met this week with two people (one local, one working in England) with IT backgrounds to discuss further the opportunities we might have to enhance the area’s connectivity. Colleagues at HIE are currently working on this issue, so we may see progress in the New Year.
  • Met Koreen MacDougall from the Caithness Partnership to discuss some joint issues. We focused on transport, and agreed to work together to make progress on key enabling projects like Berriedale. A meeting of the Caithness Transport Forum during January should help move this forward.
  • Met with Simon Middlemas and colleagues for a detailed discussion on our draft Master programme. DSRL has been very supportive of this process.
  • All of my weekly updates are now available to review on the blog page of the CNSRP website – go to http://blog.cnsrp.org.uk/
  • The Partnership office will be closed from Thursday December 24th 2009 until Monday 4th January 2010. From all of us in Janetstown, have a happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year!

 

Week Commencing 14th December:

 

  • The Partnership’s Executive Board met in Wick this week. On the agenda was feedback from the 27th November Advisory Board Meeting; an update on the draft Master Programme of activities; discussion of the first draft of the Pentland Firth Route Map. The Board asked for a revised draft of the Master programme before Christmas, and agreed to make further comments on the Pentland Firth Route Map early in the New Year, to allow a revised draft to be produced. This was the last Board meeting attended by Greg Allan from the Scottish Government, who is moving to a new position. CNSRP Chairman Sir Anthony Cleaver thanked Greg for all his work on behalf of the Partnership and the area. His replacement on the Board will be known early in the New Year.
  • I have had separate meetings this week with Rachel Skene, HIE’s Head of Tourism, and Jill McNichol, North Highland Tourism’s Marketing & Membership Manager. It is vital that our Master programme is able to reflect the importance of tourism to our future economy, and I hope that we will be able to agree a series of specific, measurable tourism targets over the next few weeks.
  • I met with a small group of representatives to discuss the detailed planning of the local half of the NDA’s Industry Day to launch the competition for the next Parent Body Organisation (PBO) for Dounreay. This is an important process, and the successful bidder will become a key player in our economy. The Industry Day has actually been split into two days: one in Wick and one in Edinburgh or Glasgow. As I mentioned last week the date for the Wick event has been announced as Friday 5th February, and will be our opportunity to present a collective vision for the area to the bidding organisations. The Dounreay Stakeholders’ Group has been asked by the NDA to lead on the planning of the programme for the event, and I am working with colleagues from DSRL, HIE, The Highland Council and the Dounreay Stakeholders’ Group to ensure that we make the bidders aware of the socio-economic issues and opportunities this area will offer them
  • The area’s vision will be presented using some design materials we have been working on – initial drafts of logos can be viewed on the Partnership website at www.cnsrp.org.uk/downloads (the logo described as option 3 is the one we favour).

 

Week Commencing 7th December:

 

  • I gave an update on activities to Highland Councillors this week, allowing them to ask questions on progress with key projects.
  • Louise Smith and I met to discuss the first draft of the Pentland Firth Route Map, which she has been working on recently. This document sets out forward goals for development of the industry in the north.
  • We have been working on papers for the CNSRP Executive Board meeting next week. Board members will hear of progress with a Master Programme for our activities.
  • I attended the Dounreay Stakeholders’ Group and updated members on progress with regeneration activities.
  • I have had discussions with several partner organisations about preparations for the Industry Day to be held in Caithness at the start of the competition for the next PBO for the Dounreay site. The date of this meeting is now fixed for Friday 5th February, around a month earlier than previously expected, so there is an increased urgency to our preparations. I hope to post the initial designs for our “vision document” for the area on the CNSRP website next week, along with a revised draft of the text for the document.
  • I convened a second meeting of a group of local companies to discuss ways of enhancing our IT connectivity. We focused on practical issues such as how to make a business case for enabling a “Point of Presence” for data connections to and from our area. We agreed a number of very practical steps to take over the coming weeks. On a similar topic the Scottish Government and BT today (Thursday) announced that a number of rural exchanges in our area will be amongst those being upgraded to enhance broadband provision. The exchanges in our area are Durness, Gillock, Lyth, Tongue, Berriedale, Kinbrace, Westerdale. This is good news for businesses and home users served by those exchanges, and was a key priority in our Action Plan.

 

Week Commencing 30th November:

 

  • This week has been spent concentrating on the detail of our master programme, which I hope to finish in draft next week. Useful updates from Scrabster Harbour Trust, Wick Harbour Authority and Highlands & Islands Airports Ltd on some of their proposed timescales for development, and I’m hoping to have further updates on the Pentland Firth project to input.
  • We have also posted at http://www.cnsrp.org.uk/files/downloads/download1196.pdf the presentation on the National Nuclear Archive given at last week’s CNSRP Advisory Board meeting.

 

Week Commencing 23rd November:

 

  • The Partnership’s Senior Officers’ Group met this week. This group meets monthly and consists of personnel from The Highland Council, HIE, the NDA and DSRL. The meeting focused on a draft Master Programme for all priority activities relating to the regeneration process. I will issue a draft document to partners in December for consultation.
  • The Partnership’s Advisory Board also met this week. This group meets quarterly and consists of organisations and individuals such as MP, MSP, Highland Councillors, Community Councillors, Chamber of Commerce, Trades Council, North Highland College, Skills Development Scotland, The Crown Estate. The members heard two presentations: first from Stewart Henderson, DSRL’s project manager for the national Nuclear Archive project. The second was from two senior staff from Babcock group, the new owners of UKAEA Ltd. This was an excellent opportunity for members to hear of their initial plans for the area.
  • I met with Mike Weston, the Head of Energy Research at UHI. His role will be important for our area as UHI supports the growth of new research opportunities in areas such as marine energy.
  • There has been follow-up activity to the Telecoms Connectivity meeting we convened in early November. Contact has been made with the owners of the FARICE data cable that comes ashore at Castletown, and there may be a way forward to develop local connectivity.
  • I met for a second time with the group of companies looking to lift the area’s profile in terms of capabilities to foster the marine energy industry, and in wider terms to attract engineering business to the area. Trudy Morris from Caithness Chamber of Commerce agreed to help drive things forward – Keith Muir from HIE also attended, and agreed to work with the companies through the Chamber of Commerce to produce a brochure outlining the area’s capabilities.

 

Week Commencing 16th November:

 

  • I had two days leave this week, but in the remaining time I met again with colleagues assisting us to bring together a detailed programme plan. For the first time this will contain our current estimate of the number of jobs we believe could be created in Caithness and North Sutherland between now and 2020.
  • Following one of the break-out sessions at the Caithness Conference a group of local engineering companies has continued to meet to formulate plans to work together. I attended one of their meetings and agreed on ways to produce literature supporting local companies as they bid for work in key sectors such as marine energy.
  • I had further discussions with Claire Conway, our new Head of Infrastructure, on early opportunities to get involved in infrastructure projects.
  • Rachel Skene, our new Head of Tourism, has been working on early actions to exploit key tourism opportunities such as next year’s National Mod. She also attended a follow-up meeting from the Sutherland Summit.
  • Fiona Macpherson and Louise Smith attended the International Tidal Energy Conference in London, accompanied by Eilidh Gunn, who staffed the Pentland Firth Stand at the event’s Exhibition. The Conference had presentations from tidal developers, and Fiona was able to gain valuable time with a number of tidal companies with an interest in the Pentland Firth as she continues to gain a better understanding of developers’ needs.
  • Louise met with HIE’s Head of Key Sectors as she continues to work on a Pentland Firth Marine Energy “Route Map”. She hopes to have a first draft as early as next week. At the foot of this email I have reproduced a question and answer in the Scottish Parliament this week regarding infrastructure for marine energy.
  • I met with Frank Roach of HITRANS, the regional transport authority for the Highlands, and discussed ways in which HITRANS’ ongoing work on issues such as rail freight could contribute to our area’s economy. Transport connectivity remains a high priority action for us.
  • Colleagues who participated in our Telecoms Connectivity meeting on 4th November have been pursuing actions – initial contact has now been made with the owners of the FARICE data cable that connects Iceland, Faroe and Scotland, coming shore at Castletown. Discussion with them should enable us to understand whether local connections to this cable are feasible/ viable. 
  • The Town Centre Regeneration Fund bids from both Wick and Thurso were unsuccessful for a second time. However, Highland Council staff met with Thurso Community Council, Thurso Traders and Caithness Chamber of Commerce to agree ways of moving forward with plans for town centre promotional activities. I understand that contact is also being made with Wick representatives to agree an approach for both towns. We will work with them to ensure that the plans remain part of our wider programme.

 

Week commencing 9th November:

 

  • I attended an update presentation on plans for the National Nuclear Archive, to be built in Wick. Good to see real progress with the scoping of this project, and to hear that design and architecture elements of the project are advancing. The facility will also be a new home for the Highland Council’s Caithness Archive. I’ve arranged for DSRL’s project manager to give an update presentation to the Partnership’s Advisory Board at its meeting on 27th November.
  • I attended the Chamber of Commerce’s “Tourism – everybody’s business” event in Wick, at which over 50 people from industry were present to hear Visitscotland Chairman Peter Lederer and North Highland Tourism’s Manager Jill McNicol outline current activities and future opportunities. It was good to see that NHT is heavily involved in developing online marketing opportunities, as well as delivering targeted press visits to the area.
  • Rachel Skene and I attended a meeting with HIE colleagues, Visit Scotland Chair Peter Lederer and Scott Armstrong (VS’s Regional Director) to explore common approaches to tourism development in our area. Visitscotland support will be important as the development of key tourism projects like John O’ Groats progresses. Rachel is arranging meetings at Visit Scotland Headquarters and with VS regional staff in Inverness to discuss how to work together on key issues.
  • Fiona MacPherson has been in Inverness at marine energy events this week, seeking to make further contact with developers to find out their plans relating to possible deployment of devices in the Pentland Firth – an issue on which we are all acutely aware of the need for further detail. Fiona has also been working with colleagues on strategies for attracting Data Centre business to the area.
  • Louise Smith has also been in Inverness at marine events, and has also been working on the production of a crucially-important “route map” for the Pentland Firth project, to be delivered in draft by mid December.
  • We are making final preparations for the 3rd International Tidal Energy Summit in London next week, at which Partnership will be present to meet tidal industry representatives.
  • Rachel met with Dr G Elliot, Executive Director North Highland Connections, to hear more about the aims and objectives of the organisation and to discuss how NHC will contribute to tourism development in the area.
  • I attended the AGM of the North Highland Regeneration Fund. Over £1 million of the fund’s £1.5M has now been approved as loans to local businesses in the Dounreay travel-to-work area, protecting existing jobs and helping create new jobs.
  • Finally, we continue to make progress on the overall programme for the Regeneration Partnership, with support from colleagues at DSRL. A written draft of the programme will be available in December.

 

Week commencing 2nd November:

 

  • I took part in a meeting requested by John Thurso MP to help move forward from recent discussions with the Crown Estate over the timescales for their leasing round. Secretary of State for Scotland Jim Murphy MP chaired the meeting in London, at which Crown Estate, HIE and Department for Energy & Climate Change were all represented. It was very constructive, and I think we’ve now collectively agreed on what needs to be done between now and the end of the year. Especially helpful is the commitment to draft a Pentland Firth “Road Map” by mid-December, showing likely infrastructure, supply chain and skills requirements and identifying resource to deliver.
  • Met Claire Conway, who has just started work as Head of Infrastructure this week. Claire will work closely with the Partnership on infrastructure issues, so we’re looking forward to working with her. She has had previous experience of working on major infrastructure projects such as the Scottish Government’s Route Development Fund and the Rosyth Ferry link.
  • I brought together a group of local representatives to discuss our needs and aspirations in telecoms connectivity. We had a very productive discussion, and agreed to work up a business case for a “point of presence” in Caithness, which would allow a major enhancement of our connectivity. We also agreed to explore opportunities to work with the owners of the “FARICE” cable that comes ashore at Castletown from Faroe and Iceland. We also agreed to work towards making a case for Caithness and north Sutherland to be one of the first rural areas to benefit from a projected expansion in 3G mobile availability.
  • I met Martin Nicolson from NES Engineering and discussed a number of issues relating to the work of the Partnership. I was also able to see the latest work being done at NES’ new Bower complex. This will be a massive facility when finished, and apart from its industrial space will also offer a significant amount of office accommodation.
  • Louise Smith attended an SNH event on sharing good practice in Marine Energy. Many of the Pentland Firth developers were there, so we are now confident we know the names of the “preferred bidders” for sea-bed leases. However, there is likely to be a debate over the coming weeks about the level of environmental monitoring required for marine devices, and whether this might stifle the industry’s development in Scotland.
  • Fiona Macpherson met with HIE’s sector team head for finance and business services, to review the draft Data Centre Feasibility Study for the H&I region. She will attend a workshop next week in Inverness to ensure that sites in C&NS are included in the final report.
  • Fiona met with Breakthrough Business who are finalizing a tourism accommodation study for C&NS both for budget accommodation and a mixed use leisure complex. The report will be available by the end of December. A draft prospectus will be prepared for marketing purposes.
  • Fiona was in Glasgow and met with SDI tourism sector head to discuss how to attract private sector investment in JOG; met with the SDI energy team; and the sector lead for developing case studies and feasibility studies for the electronics and business services sector to be used in the marketing of C&NS.
  • Rachel Skene has been making contact with key people relevant to the Tourism sector within and out with the area, to introduce herself and/or to arrange meetings. These initial meetings aim to gather further information in order to map current activity, to try to ensure people are aware of her being in post and understand her remit.

 

Week commencing 26th October:

 

  • I gave a presentation to the Scottish Government’s Rural development Council during the meeting they held at Mey Village hall. The meeting was Chaired by Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment. My presentation seemed to be well-received, and I fielded a number of searching questions afterwards. It also proved very useful, as the Cabinet Secretary and Council members recognised that our area is in many ways an ideal pilot area for many of the issues they are currently debating. I was invited to stay and participate in the Council’s workshop session. North Highland Initiative Chairman David Whiteford presented to the next session of the Council’s agenda, and we both agreed afterwards that the reception given to us was very encouraging. I hope to have a follow-up session with officials from the Rural Directorate in the coming weeks regarding the idea of our area as a “pilot” in rural development terms. You can read more about this group at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/farmingrural/Rural/rural-communities/RDC
  • Attended the Thurso & Wick Trades Council meeting at which the issue of perceived delays to Pentland Firth leasing process were the main topic of discussion. I was able to update members on progress during the past week and highlight that The Crown Estate would now be allowing its “preferred bidders” to talk to local organisations. I hope that this will help enhance our understanding of developer requirements.
  • Met Caithness Chamber of Commerce Chief executive Trudy Morris to discuss some activities on which we have been working closely, such as marine energy and town centre regeneration. We also discussed the potential for developing a regular “employment barometer” for the area.
  • I attended two events this week that the Chamber facilitated: the first brought together Wick Harbour Authority, Scrabster Harbour Trust and Orkney Islands Council Marine Services to discuss the potential for joint working. All three harbours presented their forward visions, and agreed that the combined offering would strengthen the Pentland Firth area’s attractiveness to investors. Although the three respective Boards will now need to discuss this, I would hope to see further joint work in the future. The second event was an opportunity for local supply chain companies to hear from Tom Cummings, DSRL’s Head of Commercial Services, regarding DSRL’s Procurement Strategy. It’s fair to say that there was some disquiet about the implications of elements of the strategy for supply chain companies, and I’m sure there will be further discussions about this over the coming weeks.
  • Fiona Macpherson and I attended the socio-economic subgroup of the Dounreay Stakeholders Group. Two presentations captured important issues: HIE presented on the HIE/ Highland Council plans for a pilot STEM project in local primary/ secondary schools, and David Brookfield of Pentland Housing updated on the plans to redevelop the Viewfirth site in Thurso. David’s presentation highlighted the lack of overall coordination in the development of community infrastructure. Several of us will now get together to see if we can help “declutter” this issue.
  • Fiona and I also met HIE’s new Head of Tourism Rachel Skene, who will be working closely on tourism issues in Caithness and north Sutherland with the Partnership. Rachel had just attended North Highland Tourism’s Conference in Dunrbin Castle so it was useful to look at how best to ensure good communication with industry.
  • I met with Ken Nicol (DSRL and National Skills Academy Nuclear) and Jim Brown of Energy & Utility Skills Ltd. EU Skills is the sector skills council covering gas, power, waste management and water but Jim is heavily involved in skills for the renewables sector, and is therefore in a pivotal role as we develop our own models for staff transition, apprenticeships etc. He is currently seconded into the Scottish Government to help with the skills elements of the Renewables Action Plan. Fiona, Louise and I are already looking forward to the outputs of work he is involved in, and we’ll keep in contact with him over the coming weeks.
  • Had one of my regular meetings with Randall Bargelt, NDA at NDA’s Forss office. NDA part-funds my post, and Randall sits on the Partnership’s Executive Board, and we try to have a monthly progress meeting. Also met with Anna MacConnell who is making progress with NDA’s own socio-economic work.
  • I gave a presentation at T3UK on Wednesday night to the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland during his visit to Caithness.  He was then shown round the T3 facility and saw the most recent project there: two ROV launchers waiting to be transported to the Netherlands. They proved to be a fantastic illustration of what I had just described in my presentation – a highly skilled Caithness engineering industry that is making good progress in diversifying away from reliance on Dounreay-related contracts. The two launchers subsequently left T3 yesterday (Friday 30th) bound for Holland.

 

Week commencing 12th October:

 

  • The Partnership’s Senior Officers’ Group met, and focused on two issues: the continuing need to move forward with the marine energy project (see also the third bullet point below) and the timetable for publishing a full programme plan for the project activities contained in the Caithness & North Sutherland Action Plan.
  • I met with UKAEA’s Andrew Hindle, who has been providing programming support to the Partnership as we develop our overall Programme. A revised version of the Programme is being prepared for circulation in December.
  • Had a very productive meeting today (Friday) with senior staff at HIE and Highland Council to discuss and agree our short and medium term actions to deliver local economic benefit from marine energy. More detail on this over the next two weeks.
  • Tenders for delivering the design elements of our Vision Document have been received and are being assessed. The document (and associated design materials) will be important as we engage with potential bidders for the Dounreay PBO, as well as those we are already in contact with regarding the Pentland Firth marine energy project. The NDA has just published its Q&A document for potential bidders for the Dounreay contract – http://www.nda.gov.uk/documents/upload/Dounreay-Site-Restoration-Ltd-Parent-Body-Organisation-Competition-Market-Engagement-Questions-and-Answers-October-2009.pdf
  • Also preparing a presentation on “Rural Development and the Caithness Economy” to be delivered to the Scottish Government’s Rural development Council next week when it visits Caithness. This Council is chaired by Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs & the Environment. It will be an important opportunity to communicate the opportunities we see in developing a rural economy such as ours.
  • Inward Investment executive Fiona MacPherson has shown two potential inward investors around the county this week
  • Fiona is also making contact with marine energy developers with a view to meeting them at the International Tidal Energy Summit in London next month, and the Scottish Renewables Forum’s Marine Seminar and BWEA’s Supply Chain Workshop on wave and tidal (both in Inverness) . These are crucial ongoing parts of our trying to better understand the needs and strategic intentions of marine energy developers.
  • Fiona has also been preparing for a visit from colleagues from Scottish Development International’s global offices who are on a renewable energy visit to the county to help them better sell the area’s potential to international markets.

 

Week commencing 12th October:

 

I am on annual leave this week, so there is no update as such. However, we have been responding to the news that Pentland Firth leases will not be announced until February/ March 2010. Letters have been drafted from the Partnership’s Advisory and Executive Boards to The Crown Estate in London to protest at this further delay, and to call for details to be made available by December as previously indicated.

 Both letters will be available to view later this morning at www.cnsrp.org.uk/downloads

 Normal service resumes next week!

 

Week commencing 5th October:

 

  • Continued work followed on from last week’s Caithness Regeneration Conference, including initial discussions on bringing together participants in the engineering breakout session to discuss future working models. The Partnership has offered to support the facilitation of an initial meeting.
  • I have brought together a small group of local companies interested in future IT connectivity issues, and will hold an initial meeting with them in early November to consider how we can ensure the area plays a part in the future digital economy. HIE published its own report into the subject this week – the executive summary makes interesting reading at http://www.hie.co.uk/connectivity-review-2009
  • We’re working with colleagues at HIE to find out more detail on Scottish & Southern’s announcement that funding has been approved for a subsea connector and hub from Shetland via the Moray Firth to Aberdeenshire. We understand that this will open up a connection from the Pentland Firth to allow commercial scale devices to transmit power in 2015.
  • We continue working with colleagues at DSRL and UKAEA to develop our overall programme plan. I hope to have the high-level version of this ready to submit to the Partnership’s Advisory and Executive meetings in late November and mid December respectively.
  • A useful meeting with Scrabster harbour Chief Executive Rod Johnstone to discuss SHT’s timetable for Phase 1 of its redevelopment programme. Its importance to the development of marine energy opportunities was clearly recognised at last week’s Conference, and as a result the partners in CNSRP have reiterated their support.
  • CNSRP’s Louise Smith is holding the first of her public information days at Caithness Horizons in Thurso today, followed by a presentation at Caithness Horizons tonight (6.30pm). Wick and Bettyhill will also have similar events in early November.

 

Week commencing 28th September:

 

  • Work this week has been dominated by preparations for the Caithness Regeneration Conference, which was held yesterday in the Assembly Rooms in Wick. We had over 180 delegates, making it the biggest Conference held to date. Keynote speaker was Jim Murphy, Secretary of State for Scotland, who talked about the importance the UK Government attached to making the Pentland Firth marine energy industry work. I gave an update on progress over the past year. I pointed to the fact that in the past year local companies and organisations have committed to creating 120 new jobs, which I think is a considerable achievement against a backdrop of global recession. Duncan Mackay from The Crown Estate gave an update on the Pentland Firth leasing process, which he hoped would conclude before Christmas. Our breakout sessions focused on examining the draft of our Vision Document. A number of very useful and constructive comments were fed back, and we will now take these forward in a new draft of the document. We had invited several marine device developers to attend, and I know that their plans drew considerable interest. Seven young people gave a quite rousing feedback from the Caithness Youth Conference which had been held two weeks previously. A clear reminder, if one was needed, why we need to achieve our Plan’s aims. John Thurso’s closing comments very neatly summed up the day – we are now very firmly about action rather than talking.
  • One disappointing element of the event was the Exhibition area, which was open to the public on the evening of the 30th and the afternoon of the 1st. The response from the public was very poor, despite extensive advertising in local papers, shops and online. Thank you to all the companies and organisations who gave up time to set up and staff the various stands – we clearly have to rethink this element.
  • We have also been involved this week in planning the Industry Day to be held in Caithness early next year. This will kick off the NDA’s competition for the next Parent Body Organisation contract at Dounreay. It will be an important opportunity to showcase the range of opportunities in our area for the multi-national companies likely to be interested in bidding for the contract.
  • We also received an interim report on the Skills Audit commissioned on our behalf by HIE. I’ll be digesting it over the next few days and offering comments back to the contractor leading its delivery. The final report is expected in early November.

 

Week commencing 14th September:

 

  • I gave a presentation entitled “who cares about Caithness?” at the Caithness Youth Conference, which was held in front of around 80 people between 15-25 years of age.  It was a fast-moving event with interactive text-based voting on issues, and the feedback from it will be a feature of the Caithness Regeneration Conference. I was delighted that the response to the question in the title of my presentation was an almost unanimous show of hands.
  • I continue to participate in the Dounreay Stakeholders’ Group, which met this week in Thurso. It’s an important forum to share information on our activities, and to get feedback from a range of partners on how we’re doing. I provide the written update to its socio-economic subgroup, taking information from a range of partners and hopefully rationalising the amount of individual reports in circulation.
  • I was at the launch of the “everybody online” project in Caithness Horizons. This is a project to encourage greater usage of the internet and technology, and has support from BT, HIE and the Highland Council. I discussed current issues with project officer Shona Macdonald, and in particular the Partnership’s imminent move to set up a “technology sub-group” to look at what we might need to compete in the digital economy. If anyone wishes to get involved in this sub-group please let me know: my intention would be for it to have a very focused (and probably time-limited) brief.
  • Had a further useful meeting with the new Chairman of the North Highland Initiative, as we continue to seek ways of developing its impact on the area’s economy. Both tourism and food & drink are high priority areas in our Action plan, so the NHI is an important partner here.
  • We continue to discuss the Pentland Firth leasing process with colleagues at the Crown Estate, and my colleague Fiona Macpherson is currently maintaining contact with as many marine energy companies as we are able to, to ensure we are maintaining their awareness of the opportunities for local supply-chain work should they be offered leases. I’m hoping Duncan Mackay from The Crown Estate will be in a position to give an update to attendees at the Caithness Conference on 1st October.
  • Important series of catch-up meetings with colleagues at HIE this week. The area team have been working very hard on a range of key projects recently, so it was good to see people like Carol Gunn and her team getting recognition for the work being done to progress the John O’ Groats proposals.
  • Less than 2 weeks until the Caithness Conference, so planning is in its final phase. We currently expect attendance numbers to be around 170, which will make it the biggest Conference to date, so thanks to everyone who has been helping out with logistics and detail of exhibition stands etc. Delegate packs went out yesterday, so please let me know if you haven’t received one by Monday.

 

Week commencing 7th September:

 

  • At the invitation of John Thurso MP I participated along with other local representatives in a meeting with UK Energy Minister Lord Hunt & Trevor Raggatt, a senior official of the Department for Energy & Climate Change. It was one of the most positive meetings I’ve had recently, and I hope it left both men with a very clear view of the potential this area has to contribute to UK energy targets, as well as the clear message that we must not let the emerging wave and tidal industry slip through our fingers to be developed elsewhere abroad.
  • The Regeneration Partnership’s Advisory Board met on Monday, and I was able to brief them on Lord Hunt’s visit. The Board heard a presentation on the proposed enhancements to the teaching of STEM subjects in local schools, and also fed back concerns over the pace of development at the Pentland Firth project, and specific concerns from some local businesses about difficulties in being able to bid for public sector contracts. Both issues were taken on board and are being followed up.
  • The Partnership’s Executive Board met yesterday (Thursday) and held a follow-up discussion on the Pentland Firth issues forwarded from the Advisory Board members. A series of action points will now be taken away by Executive Board members. The Board also discussed progress with the Caithness & North Sutherland Action Plan.
  • I met with Scottish Government colleagues who are making arrangements for a meeting of the Scottish Government’s Rural Development Council, to be held in Caithness in October. This is an influential group, chaired by Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment and one of its members, Pat Buchanan from Dunbeath, has worked very hard to attract the group north. I have been helping pull together suitable information and industry representatives for the group to meet.
  • I gave a very brief presentation to the Local Area Partnership for the EU LEADER programme in Caithness. My purpose was to highlight the potential for LEADER’s development plan for Caithness and the Caithness & north Sutherland Action Plan to be as closely aligned as possible.
  • I attended the joint ward forums meeting in Wick on Tuesday night which discussed the Highland-wide Development Plan for the Highland Council. I’m sure today’s papers will carry some of the debates, but from my own perspective it was encouraging to see what seemed to be unanimous acceptance of the need to fully integrate economic opportunity and planning issues. The Council’s Development Plan team is working with us to ensure that economic opportunities are as realistic and up to date as possible.
  • I have been discussing the Regeneration Partnership’s input to a visit by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in October. I feel that it is important for key public figures to be able to find out more about our area, and go south again with a clear view of our plans. I hope to include Caithness Chamber of Commerce in this presentation.
  • I attended the official opening of Wick Harbour Marina by HRH the Princess Royal. The Marina is a fantastic facility, and the Wick Harbour Authority Board deserve immense credit for pursuing this project. It was also a real partnership effort within the public sector: the NDA, the Crown Estate and HIE had to work extremely hard on this one.  The event also provided an opportunity for the Wick Society to showcase some of the stunning prints from the Johnstone Collection which they have been digitising.
  • A reminder that tonight’s BBC Landward programme will have John Sutherland talking about his project to introduce Japanese Wagyu beef cattle to the area. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00mr2l7
  • Finally, if you haven’t bought a “Groat” or “Northern Times” today you’ll have missed the Partnership’s Newsletter. Please let me know if you’d like us to send you copies of the Newsletter, which has a range of stories from our area over the past three months.

 

Week commencing 31st August:

 

  • Spent some time reviewing the information in the newly-published study on youth migration in the Highlands and Islands. Our local figures cover the whole of Caithness & Sutherland, so it’s not easy to see the most local statistics, but some of it does make sobering reading. Further confirmation that we need to communicate better the opportunities for people to find local employment in this area over the coming years.  http://www.hie.co.uk/2009/Young%20People%20in%20the%20Highlands%20and%20Islands%20_%20Final%20Report%20August%202009.pdf
  • Coincidentally I’m also preparing a presentation on future opportunities to give to the delegates attending the Caithness Youth Conference. It takes place in Wick Assembly Rooms two weeks before the “main” Caithness Conference, and will provide some valuable input into discussions on our area’s vision of its future. Around 100 people under the age of 25 are expected to attend.
  • The steering group for the Caithness Conference had its final meeting this week. I will be in touch with companies again next week to finalise the exhibition space we will be using to show the public what is happening in the area. Delegate packs will go out in the next week.
  • Had a very useful meeting with Head of HIE’s Energy team to discuss progress with marine energy. As a result I will be feeding my views into the Partnership’s Executive and Advisory Boards when they meet next week.
  • Brief discussions with HIE colleagues about a pilot project to work with high-growth food & drink businesses in Caithness. I look forward to hearing more on this in the coming weeks.
  • Meeting with colleagues at DSRL and UKAEA, who are helping us develop further detailed programme planning for the Action Plan.
  • Both the Advisory Board and Executive Board of the Regeneration Partnership meet next week, so I have been finalising arrangements for both meetings. The latest snapshot of the Action Plan will go first to the Advisory Board for comments and then to the Executive Board for final comments before it is published on our website.
  • Jill McNicol, the new Marketing and Membership Manager for North Highland Tourism, started work last week. She comes to NHT having previously been involved in major tourism projects like the redeveloped Culloden Visitor Centre. I’m looking forward to working with her as NHT’s marketing campaign begins.
  • A brief reminder that the Highland Council consultation event on the Highland-wide Local Development Plan is in Mackay’s Hotel, Wick this coming Tuesday (8th September) at 7pm. The Council is also consulting on its Coastal Strategy and Transport plan, both of which are important to our area.

 

Week commencing 10th August:

 

  • Participated in the Caithness Chamber of Commerce’s event on the Pentland Firth Marine Energy project. At the event Duncan Mackay (The Crown Estate), Louise Smith (Pentland Firth Project Manager) and myself answered a series of questions from Chamber members. I hope it was a useful chance for companies to hear up to date information on progress, and as we go through the next two months and learn more about who will receive leases it’s something I think we’d like to repeat.
  • Participated in the consultation event held at T3UK to feed into the Scottish Government’s Marine Spatial Planning study for the Pentland Firth & Orkney waters. This will be a key factor in the development of a marine energy industry around the Pentland Firth, so it was good to see over 40 local people at the event, representing a range of local user groups. Documents relating to the work can be seen at www.marineplanning.com It is expected that the key outputs will be available by next January.
  • Discussed the opportunities to align the forthcoming Highland-wide Local Development Plan with our local Action Plan’s aims. The Highland Plan is a key planning tool, projecting strategy, policy and vision over the next 20 years. The Highland Council have launched a series of consultation events to gauge opinion on what should be in the new Plan. Local events will be at Wick Assembly Rooms (31st August), Durness Village Hall (2nd September) and Caithness Horizons, Thurso (3rd September). Initial documentation can be downloaded from www.highland.gov.uk
  • Met with a company seeking to set up a new office in the Thurso area and create several new jobs – a good sign that companies based outwith the Highlands and Islands continue to be interested in moving into the county.
  • Met with colleagues in north Sutherland to discuss several potentially important projects in the tourism and forestry sectors, both key sectors on the north coast.
  • I was invited to the last Board meeting of the North Highland Regeneration Fund, and am delighted to report that 4 new loans totalling £230,000 were approved to local companies.
  • Finalising the draft of the next “Snapshot” of the Caithness & North Sutherland Action Plan, for discussion at the Advisory Board and Executive Board of the Partnership at separate meetings during week commencing 7th September. The final version of Snapshot 8 will then be made available via the Partnership’s website (www.cnsrp.org.uk)
  • I have been passing on information from the very useful “Tourism Innovation Group” website to some local tourism businesses. Well worth a look, not just if you are a tourism business. Of particular interest to me was the recent launch of bluetooth information kiosks in the Aviemore & Cairngorms National Park. This initiative provides up to date information content to bluetooth enabled mobile devices, and is accessible 24 hours a day. (www.tourisminnovation.com)

 

Week commencing 27th July:

 

  • Attended the AGM of the Friends of the Far North line, to hear presentations by the new MD of First Scotrail, Network Rail’s senior manager in Scotland and John Swinney the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth. The meeting was covered in the local press and I was also able to catch a minute with Mr Swinney to describe progress on key parts of our action plan.
  • Discussions with Scottish Government colleagues on possible Scottish Ministerial participation at the Caithness Conference in October, as well as discussing skills and education issues to inform Scottish Ministers.
  • Further work is being done to prepare for the Caithness Conference in October. Some of you participated in an exhibition at last year’s Conference, and I am very keen to develop that further at this year’s event, which will be held in Wick’s Assembly Rooms. I will be in touch next week to seek participants for this year’s event. The Conference will be a chance to present a draft of our area “vision” document, which we’ll hope to use in discussions likely to take place over the next 12 months with renewable energy companies/ device developers and potential bidders for the contract to be the PBO at Dounreay.
  • Discussions with HIE’s STEM Director regarding the proposal to start a pilot project in local primary and secondary schools to boost the teaching and learning in science, technology, engineering and maths subject areas. This is a potentially exciting project as we will be leading for the whole of Scotland.
  • In discussions with Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd, UKAEA Ltd and HIE to pursue the potential for gaining a part of the research work associated with the international fusion project (ITER).
  • Discussing with colleagues at NDA and DSRL proposals for helping further develop our overall programme of activities. The Partnership will be working closely with DSRL/ UKAEA over the next few months to detail and publish this programme.