Weekly Update, 14th March 2011

Energy:
Following discussions at the CNSRP Executive Board about the value of pursuing additional mechanisms to encourage inward investment into the area, CNSRP Chairman Sir Anthony Cleaver has this week written to Rt Hon George Osborne MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer, to ask for support in making Caithness and North Sutherland one of the 10 Enterprise Zones announced by the coalition UK Government. Copies of the letter have also been sent to Rt Hon Danny Alexander MP (Chief Secretary to the Treasury) and Michael Moore MP (Secretary of State for Scotland). A copy will also be sent to Scottish Government Ministers, as there are some aspects of this approach which could fall under devolved powers.

Along with several other local stakeholders, I met this week with a senior representative from a leading engineering support services company to discuss opportunities being opened up in our area through marine renewable energy. Our companies’ existing track records in delivering high quality engineering solutions is excellent – we are also now seeing interest from companies who are already dealing with marine energy developers. I also met HIE Account Manager Keith Muir to discuss a possible inward investment opportunity related to tidal energy.

HIE’s new Operating Plan for 2011-14 was launched this week. In it HIE focuses on four key delivery areas:
Supporting businesses and social enterprises to shape and realise their growth aspirations
Strengthening communities and fragile areas
Developing key sectors, particularly distinctive regional opportunities
Creating the conditions for a competitive and low-carbon region
The Partnership’s Caithness & North Sutherland Action Plan 2011-14 is fully aligned with these growth priorities. As part of this new Operating Plan HIE has created a new role – Director of Energy and Low Carbon. Calum Davidson, previously HIE’s Head of Key Sectors, will take up this post on 1st April, but colleagues in the HIE Area Team invited me to meet Calum today (Friday) in advance of him taking up post. It was a very useful chance to hear Calum’s very positive views on the opportunities ahead of us, and some of his thoughts on how these can be delivered.  Two other significant appointments to HIE’s new Leadership Team are Carroll Buxton (Director of Regional Development) and Charlotte Wright (Director of Business & Sector Growth). The new HIE Operating Plan can be viewed at http://www.hie.co.uk/about-hie/policies-and-publications/operating-plan.html

Communications:
I provided a comment to support coverage in the John O’ Groat Journal of the area’s efforts to attract Marine Energy Park status. I have also been involved in preparations for the launch of the STEM programme for schools in the Caithness & North Sutherland area. Press coverage for this project, involving support from HIE, DSRL and Highland Council, should happen next week.
There was also good coverage of the two new Chamber of Commerce appointments in the local press this week – whilst the reaction to the launch of the town centre development officer post was met with mixed reactions from local retailers, it was good to see positive suggestions for ways to stimulate activity in both towns. You can read it at http://www.johnogroat-journal.co.uk/news/fullstory.php/aid/9236/No_magic_wand_for_town-centre_renewal.html

I also met with the Board of Caithness Chamber of Commerce to update Board members on progress with the programme of activities supporting the delivery of the Action Plan.