Weekly Update, 28th February 2011

Programme activities:

Energy:
I continue to discuss ways in which the area’s assets can be maximised in relation to the marine energy sector. This week discussions have taken place with Highland Council and HIE staff regarding how we might approach Government to make the case for some form of enterprise zone status for the area, and also to take forward proposals to combine existing financial resources within CNSRP partners to provide an even more attractive package for potential investors. Next week I will also discuss these issues with NDA staff. A keynote speech at the RUK wave and tidal conference in London this week by DECC Minister Greg Barker MP also highlighted the coalition Government’s desire to move forward with Marine Energy Parks, and one of the areas mentioned was the Pentland Firth. You can read the text of the Minister’s speech at http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/news/GB_RUKspeech/GB_RUKspeech.aspx

I met with staff from Thurso’s Environmental Research Institute to discuss current issues and opportunities. ERI’s lead role in the MaREE research project puts it at the forefront of key areas of marine energy research, and there are currently numerous opportunities to deliver research and development programmes in this field, each of which would bring economic benefits to our area. The current phase of development for the marine energy industry in the pentland Firth is focused on planning and consenting, so environmental assessment and monitoring is a key early opportunity for companies in the north. We agreed that ERI is a key player in helping achieve the area’s goals in marine energy, and that the partners in CNSRP welcome the chance to better understand and respond to these opportunities. 

Business Services:
HIE has announced support for the expansion plans of CSC, the company that came to the area when it took over DSRL’s IT support systems, but which has now broadened its contracts beyond local work. CSC, which is a multi-national IT support company with headquarters in the USA, plans to increase its current worforce of 26 by a further 15. This is a good example of the type of existing business service that can be provided from a local base to anywhere in the world.

Tourism, food & drink:
The Town Centre Development project that has been developed by Caithness Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with Caithness Partnership and Wick and Thurso Community Councils has now recruited its Town Centre development Officer. The two-year post has been filled by Wick man Alan Steven, and he started work this week on a programme that will see him working with local retailers, tourism businesses and community organisations.

HIE’s Rachel Skene has been leading a programme of work to identify growth opportunities in tourism in Caithness and North Sutherland, and to agree methods of achieving this growth. A meeting of organisations and businesses involved in the programme so far will take place next week, and I hope this will provide further detailed delivery opportunities to inform the wider regeneration programme for the area. 

Enabling Activities:
The final element of the funding package for the Caithness & North Sutherland Skills Transition programme was announced by Scottish Government this week, with £1,148,875 from the European Social Fund. This follows previous funding awards from the NDA, Skills Development Scotland and Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd, and means that the £2.3M three-year “Make The Right Connections” programme can now begin in earnest. The programme will focus on DSRL staff, local supply chain workforce and local young people, and will capture existing skills before mapping them against the skills required by industries likely to  form part of the area’s future economy. The programme will then help individuals to look at what they will need to do to gain any skills required.

Communications:
The first of a series of features on elements of our Action Plan was carried in last week’s John O’ Groat Journal. It brought together examples from across the energy sector, showing that local companies are currently growing their businesses in this priority sector for CNSRP’s partners. I was particularly pleased that the feature, written by local journalist Iain Grant, was able to highlight that businesses have been able to diversify away from dependence on Dounreay-related work. The feature is available to download from our website at – http://www.cnsrp.org.uk/files/downloads/download1713.pdf
There was considerable press and media coverage given to the ESF announcement on the Skills Transition project (see above). Chamber Chief Executive Trudy Morris did an excellent job of reminding BBC radio listeners that the news of 2,000 job losses at Dounreay was not a new story, before describing the importance of preparing the area’s workforce for the type of jobs we hope to secure over the next ten years. The coverage in the local press was more positive, and the article can be viewed at http://www.cnsrp.org.uk/files/downloads/download1714.pdf
Press reports this week highlighted that Caithness received an economic boost of over £3M (£2m of direct expenditure and £1m of indirect) from last October’s Royal National Mod. Members of Highland Council’s Gaelic Committee heard the news last week following presentation of an Economic Impact Report on the event. The Committee report can be viewed at http://www.highland.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/54F0FDF1-2D3D-43FF-8723-8F31988ABBBE/0/Item5G311.pdf .All four partners in CNSRP contributed funding to enable the event to happen in Caithness.