Weekly Update, 14th February 2011

Programme activities:
Now that we have agreed our priorities for the 2011-2014 period, work continues to implement the programme of delivery activities. This week I chaired the monthly meeting of the Partnership’s Delivery Group, at which colleagues from HIE, Highland Council, DSRL and Caithness Chamber reported on progress with our two priority areas of energy and business services. Two inward investment research reports have just been completed – on Electrical Supply Chain market for marine renewables, and on opportunities in the Scottish Oil & Gas market. Over the next 12 weeks HIE will undertake a campaign to approach individual “leads” in both these markets with materials describing the area’s assets, and its attractiveness as a place to invest. Individual follow up contacts with specific companies will then take place to explore interest in more detail, with the aim of delivering inward investment deals for the area. This approach will be taken for all 8 of the current research-based inward investment workstreams for energy and business services, the remaining six of which are due to complete their research reports by the end of March.

The Delivery Group also discussed with DSRL’s Head of Commercial the current issues and opportunities in the evolving “shared services” programme across the NDA estate. One positive outcome from this discussion has been the possible opportunity to impart more information to bidders for larger DSRL and NDA contracts on local business capabilities. Caithness Chamber of Commerce is now involved in discussing these opportunities. 

Marine Energy:
Activity continues on developing the area’s ability to compete for work in the marine energy industry: the skills transition project that will bring existing workforce and new local entrants together with emerging demand from the marine sector is ready to commence once final funding is confirmed; work to develop physical infrastructure such as Scrabster harbour is also at a crucial funding stage; and efforts to establish the area as an excellent place to do business continue. This week a number of local, regional and national bodies, together with marine developers, were represented at an event in the Castle of Mey, jointly led by Highland Council, HIE, Scottish Government and The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment/ The North Highland Initiative. The event’s purpose was to establish key planning and development requirements likely to enhance the area’s competitiveness to this industry . Several opportunities such as the establishment of an Enterprise Zone had been identified for discussion, and these will be taken forward in the coming weeks by Highland Council and others.

A significant additonal benefit from the event was the presence of a colleague from Scottish and Southern Energy’s Transmission Development team, who was able to talk in detail about the likely implications for electricity Grid upgrades in the north. SSE colleagues will be presenting this information to the CNSRP Advisory Board when it meets next week. The planned programme of construction work in our area over the next few years will have implications for local employment.

I also attended an event held in Thurso by Scottish Power Renewables regarding plans for their tidal energy site at Ness of Duncansby. Caithness company EnergyHunt is contracted to provide local facilitation for SPR as it goes through its planning and consenting processes.

Town centres:
One issue affecting the attractiveness of our area to potential inward investors is the relative vibrancy of our town centres. This week I assisted in the interview process for a Town Centre Development Officer to cover Wick and Thurso town centres.