Weekly Update, 28th March to 2nd May 2011

Energy:
A joint North of Scotland Industries Group/ Caithness Chamber of Commerce event on marine energy was held in North Highland College. The event was attended by businesses from across the Highlands and into Grampian area, including some oil & gas companies with developing interests in renewables. A number of presentations including ones from Crown Estate and Caithness Chamber, and an excellent one from Subsea 7’s Willie Watt on the company’s new global brand, having merged with Acergy. Their likely importance to the renewables sector in terms of technical experience and marine vessel infrastructure is going to be significant, and the potential of the Wester site to become a launch site for marine devices is also significant. Aquamarine Power gave a good description of their contracting strategy, and it was good to hear both AP and Dan Pearson from Meygen saying they were keen to better understand the role of local supply chain companies in their business model.

Duncan Mackay is leaving his post with The Crown Estate at the end of June. There is no doubt that we have benefited from having a key Crown Estate postholder based in Thurso. CNSRP Chairman Sir Anthony Cleaver has written to The Crown Estate’s Chairman expressing how important it will be for TCE to maintain and even expand its “on the ground” presence in the north. Other key local organisations such as DSRL, Thurso & Wick Trades Council, Caithness Chamber of Commerce and DSG Socio-economic subgroup are likely to write in similar vein.

Caithness companies will be represented at the international All-Energy Exhibition and Conference in Aberdeen on 18 & 19 May. Caithness Chamber of Commerce will be represented under the banner of the “Invest Caithness” initiative, and a number of local companies will have space on this exhibition stand. Other companies and organisations (eg. Kongsberg Maritime, EnergyHunt, Environmental Research Institute, Partrac, Port Services Group, HIE, Crown Estate) will have specific stands, and there will be a number of other stands with considerable interest to the area – EDP Renewables and SeaEnergy will feature the Moray Firth Offshore Wind development sites on their stands, and many of the Pentland Firth wave and tidal developers will have individual stands (eg Hammerfest Strom, Pelamis, Marine Current Turbines); Ignis Energy, the preferred bidder to take over running of the Wick CHP project; North of Scotland Industries Group; and the Nuclear Industry Association.

A sub-group of CNSRP came together on 3rd May to help drive forward our actions on energy. As with our previous Skills and Connectivity sub-groups, its core is drawn from the CNSRP Advisory Board membership, but with additional members from businesses already working in the energy (and particularly the renewables) sector. Duncan Mackay outlined the forthcoming “build-out story” on wave and tidal being produced by The Crown Estate, and it was felt that this would be a useful framework for local businesses to use to focus on capturing opportunities (and therefore creating jobs) in all phases of research, development, fabrication, assembly, operation and maintainance. The Crown Estate undertook a broadly similar exercise to inform the build-out phases for Offshore Wind, and this report can be accessed at http://www.thecrownestate.co.uk/round3_supply_chain_gap_analysis.pdf

Business Services:
A meeting with Richard Stoneham and Yvonne McCarthy of the Pensions Administration Office and local stakeholder organisations was held to discuss the proposed move of the PAO from Thurso to Forss Business and Technology Park. The business rationale for the move was outlined by Richard Stoneham, and those in attendance agreed that the move should allow the PAO room for expansion in the future as it bids for new contracts. An announcement on possible contract awards to the PAO was due in the near future. Richard Stoneham also updated members of the DSG socio-economic subgroup.

PCS staff from the HMRC office in Wick met with HIE, John Thurso, Caithness Chamber and myself to discuss the ongoing efforts to secure an economic future for the skilled staff employed at the facility. The campaign to make the case for retaining the staff continues, but HIE is also working with staff to agree materials that can be used to market the skills in the HMRC team to companies who specialise in tax issues (eg larger accountancy firms) and also other financial organisations.

Stewart Henderson from DSRL gave the recent meeting of the DSG socio-economic subgroup an update presentation on the National Nuclear Archive project, which DSRL has been progressing on behalf of the NDA. Although the NDA’s position remains that it will spend this financial year reviewing its Information Management strategy, and then decide on the scope and timing for the NNA, the presentation highlighted work that will continue to go on at a local level in the meantime. It seems that pre-planning consultation and outline planning permission could be taken forward, as might a site for an interim archive storage solution in Caithness.

Enabling activities:

  • The CNSRP Chairman wrote to Chancellor George Osborne before the UK Budget statement to make a request for our area becoming one of the number of Enterprise Zones due to be announced by the coalition Government. The Chancellor’s announcement focused on creating EZ’s in England, but Sir Anthony’s letter was also copied to Scottish Government so that incoming Ministers will be able to respond: several of the common features of EZ’s are in fact devolved issues (rates relief, streamlined planning). We await the Scottish Election results before following this up with the incoming Administration. In the meantime I have drafted some outline possibilities for consideration if the incoming administration takes forward the concept, and continue to talk to colleagues at Scottish Government and HIE about potential for the concept in our area.
  • I am also discussing with colleagues at Highland Council what actions will be taken to progress the “onshore visioning” process for marine energy in Caithness and North Sutherland that was begun in partnership with The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment, HIE, Scottish Government and a range of local stakeholders. A report with recommended actions will be forwarded to Highland Council’s Planning, Environment and Development Committee later this month.
  • Caithness Chamber of Commerce will be running an event next week to allow its members to look at and comment on the Partnership’s delivery programme for 2011-14. This is a welcome opportunity for me to have feedback from the business community on the range of activities being undertaken to support the delivery of the economic transition process for Caithness and North Sutherland. Further details can be found at http://www.caithnesschamber.com/files/events/event371.pdf
  • Businesses and social enterprises that are account-managed by HIE are eligible to apply for the TalentScotland Placement Programme, which offers skilled graduates or undergraduates placements (with wage subsidies) of 6-12 months and up to 8 weeks over the summer respectively. More details can be found at http://www.hie.co.uk/support-for-business/skills-development/graduate-placements/graduate-placements.html
  • Caithness Chamber of Commerce has recruited two members of staff to run the 3-year “Make the Right Connections” skills transition programme. Marcus Mennie and Christine Miller will be the Programme Manager and Administrator respectively. Marcus started work this week. The programme is due to be launched on 31st May, and at present a range of preliminary work is being carried out.
  • It was good to see Caithness Chamber of Commerce’s Chief Executive Trudy Morris being asked across to Orkney last month to describe to a gathering of island businesses the value of the Chamber of Commerce in Caithness. It is a reflection of the rapid progress being made by the Chamber since its relaunch in 2009.
  • Farr High School in Bettyhill has once again scooped significant awards at the final of the Young Enterprise Scotland competition in Nairn this week. An enterprise team of students won the “best company” award for the third year in a row. Josh Fisher from Farr picked up the award for “outstanding speaker” and also “entrepreneur of the year”. Farr also won 4 other awards for best Christmas market stall, best market research, best annual report and (jointly with Fortrose) best PR. It’s a very impressive performance once again by one of the smallest secondaries in the Highlands and Moray.