Weekly Update, week commencing 31st January

I accompanied CNSRP Chairman Sir Anthony Cleaver, HIE Chief Executive Alex Paterson, Highland Council Director of Planning & Development Stuart Black, NDA Director of Communications & Stakeholder Relations Jon Phillips and Scottish Government Enterprise Team member Karen Jackson to meet Jim Mather MSP, the Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism in the Scottish Government. The meeting was very positive, with Mr Mather welcoming the progress made in our area since 2007, and also welcoming our increased focus on two sectors in particular over the next three years – energy and business services. This was an important step in maintaining awareness in government (Scottish and UK) of the challenges and opportunities for our area. In brief, our aspirations for 2011-14 are to
Work with existing area businesses in the energy and business services sectors to help them diversify and grow their businesses.
Deliver a targeted programme of inward investment activity focused on energy-related opportunities such as marine renewable energy, oil & gas
Deliver a targeted programme of inward investment activity focused on business services-related opportunities such as data centres, contact centres and higher-skill back office functions.
Support the delivery of key enabling infrastructure such as ports and harbours, road, rail and air transport, skills transition and digital connectivity.
I met HIE’s Area Manager Roy Kirk to discuss progress with the 8 inward investment research studies currently being undertaken for HIE in the energy and business services sectors. These are progressing well, and potential target companies identified through this research will then be targeted with specific proposition materials on our area which are currently being developed through a design company. The subject areas currently being progressed are  marine renewables electrical supply chain, oil & gas, pharmaceutical production, pricing models for “green” data centres, home-working, contact centres, back office/ shared services and public sector relocations.

I met with Caithness Chamber, Caithness Partnership and representatives from both Wick and Thurso Community Councils to update progress with the recruitment of a town centre development officer for the two towns. Interviews for the post will be held this month, with the postholder hoped to be in place during March.

I met with a representative of the company currently working with the North Highland Initiative to look at its future role and structure. NHI is the umbrella body established by HRH The Duke of Rothesay, and has established separate organisations North Highland Products (Mey Selections brand), North Highland Tourism and North Highland Connections. NHI and its family of companies has the potential to be a significant player in the delivery of economic growth in the next three years.

I was invited to a meeting of the board of North Highland Regeneration Fund, the loan-based fund set up with NDA financial support. The fund continues to attract a range of applications. Follow up contact with companies who have been awarded loans indicates that the effects of the severe weather in December have impacted on both orders and deliveries for manufacturing firms, and that availability of capital continues to be a significant issue. The range of sectors being supported shows the breadth of the local economy, and it is encouraging to see start-ups in the energy and sciences sectors.

Scottish Government has announced the new Scottish Loan Fund. This is a £55M loan fund aimed at existing small to medium sized enterprises (SME’s) with growth aspirations. The fund has been set up with support from the Scottish Investment Bank, which in turn has been supported by the European Regional Development Fund. All funding decisions are taken by independent managers Maven Capital Partners UK. More information on the fund is available at  http://www.scottish-enterprise.com/fund-your-business/scottish-investment-bank/scottish-loan-fund.aspx

Finally, the Thurso Area Committee of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers is running an event in the Pentland Hotel, Thurso at 7.30pm next Tuesday (8th) at which the guest speaker will be Stuart Baird from the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney. EMEC is the world’s only accredited (and grid-connected) test facility for marine renewable energy, and as such is playing a key role in developing wave and tidal power in the Pentland Firth.

I hope you find this useful.

All the best

Eann Sinclair, Programme Manager