Weekly Update, 22nd March 2010

I brought together a small group of local representatives to discuss how best to bring together a “pipeline” of projects from within our regeneration programme, so that we can make better use of funding opportunities. This is important as we seek to deliver tangible economic benefits

 I also attended a meeting called by the Chamber of Commerce to look at a draft procurement strategy from one of the successful lease-holders from Round One of the Pentland Firth programme. This is a major step forward for us, and was the result of discussions between the developer and Fiona macpherson and Trudy Morris. A number of local supply chain companies were able to discuss our collective capability to meet this developer’s requirements, and the very clear view was that this capability does currently exist. There is now an opportunity to put together detailed material to the developer, giving them comfort that Caithness companies are an important part of their procurement strategy, and Caithness Chamber of Commerce will be working with HIE to make this happen . This approach will be repeated for each of the successful Round One bidders.

 I took part in a meeting with colleagues from the Chamber of Commerce, the Highland Council, Business Gateway and the NDA regarding the development of our town centres. The Chamber and the Caithness Partnership are working on a business plan for a town centre marketing and development programme, and we agreed that Business gateway nmight also have a useful advisory role to play in bringing this plan together. The aim is to complete the plan in time for submission to the EU LEADER fund.

 I met with The Crown Estate’s Duncan Mackay and new Crown Estate employee John Callaghan. John will have a key role in the organisation’s wave and tidal activities, and although he will not be based in this area it was good to have the opportunity to talk to him about the huge importance to us of local economic benefit from the early stages of the industry’s development.

 Following meetings between myself, Trudy Morris and Simon Coles from DSRL Caithness Chamber of Commerce was able to organise one of the UK launch events for the new Decom North Sea organisation. It was held in Thurso, and attendees were able to hear the organisation’s Chief Executive Brian Nixon and Board member Simon Coles give presentations on the potential value of decommissioning within the oil & gas industry over the coming years. The clear message was that local companies may well be able to use the many years of nuclear decommissioning experience to gain entry into this emerging market. Further details are avauilable from Trudy Morris at the Chamber of Commerce or directly from www.decomnorthsea.com

 I met with CNSRP Chairman Sir Anthony Cleaver to update him on current activities, and to discuss the Partnership’s forthcoming Executive Board meeting.

 I met Highland Council colleagues Ian Hargrave and Stuart Black to review recent events such as our Advisory Board and the Crown estate Round One launch, looking at how best we can continue to push forward with key programme activities. We also discussed the potential for recent contact with the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment to complement our current discussions on town centre development.

 Met with Randall Bargelt and Anna MacConnell from the NDA for a regular update. We discussed the reaction of some people to the fact that the Round one pentland Firth announcement featured more orkney sites than Caithness/ north Sutherland. We agreed that the crucial point will be where the local economic benefit is secured, particularly through contracts for local supply chain work, and that we must continue to pursue these opportunities.   

 Met Iain Grant from Grant News Agency to discuss examples of work the Partnership is currently involved with, including marine energy, tourism, engineering, apprenticeships and IT connectivity. Iain is doing some copy-writing for the Partnership, to make sure that we are able to communicate progress as it continues to happen.  

 Finally, I met with Louise Smith for a final discussion on marine energy before she left her post at HIE on Friday. Louise has been instrumental in achieving the international profile currently being enjoyed by the pentland Firth project, and whilst her drive and enthusiasm will be greatly missed, I’m sure she will continue to take an interest in helping the local area to benefit from the marine energy industry as it develops. Next week also sees the departure of both Fiona Macpherson and Sandra McCaughey from HIE’s Area team. Fiona has established a number of inward investment leads over the last 18 months, and over the coming months we’ll see some of these reach fruitition. Sandra’s influence in HIE has been immense over the years, and we’ll miss her greatly. Best wishes to all three of them!

The announcement from DSRL regarding potential job losses at Dounreay over the next three years serves as a stark reminder of the challenges we face. The programme of activities upon which the partners are embarked is aimed at creating new employment opportunities in the local economy – whether by growing local businesses or by targeted inward investment activity. The departure of three staff involved in the delivery of the programme also also means a refocusing of effort on continuing delivery. The Partnership’s Executive Board meets in two weeks’ time, and will have the opportunity to look again at how we are responding to the challenges.