Weekly Update, 19th March 2012

Energy:
The Leader of the Highland Council has welcomed this week’s publication by the Scottish Affairs Committee of its report on the Crown Estate in Scotland. The Committee took evidence from a wide range of interests, and visited Caithness last year as part of its inquiry. The report recommends that Crown Estate powers over marine and ancient rights and responsibilities in Scotland be devolved, then decentralised as far as possible. http://www.highland.gov.uk/yourcouncil/news/newsreleases/2012/March/2012-03-19-10.htm and the report itself can be accessed at http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/scottish-affairs-committee/news/crown-estate-report/

In a further boost for marine energy projects in the Pentland Firth area, Scottish Government has this week announced the Renewable Energy Investment Fund, a £103M scheme which will focus on supporting wave and tidal developers with the development and deployment of array projects, as well as supporting communities and rural businesses to develop their own local renewable projects. http://www.scotland.gov.uk/News/Releases/2012/03/renewableenergyinvestmentfund22032012

Food & Drink:

Good to see Caithness Biscuits’ relationship with Tesco bringing further development. The company’s products are now available in 60 Tesco stores across Scotland, and the company’s Director Stuart McConnach will be featured as one of Tesco’s local suppliers on a new fleet of  14 Tesco delivery lorries. Caithness Biscuits has in the past benefited from start-up support from the NDA-funded North Highland Regeneration Fund, and has increased the size of its premises at Forss Business & Technology Park.

Enabling activities:

Key to the area’s future attractiveness as a place to do business are the robustness of its transport links. Following last week’s meeting of the Wick Airport Consultative Committee (WACC) I met this week with Trudy Morris (Chair of WACC); HIE staff and Highlands & Islands Airports Ltd (HIA) staff. Our discussions focused particularly on how future business opportunities for the area would impact on the airport, and we agreed to work together to ensure that these were understood within the wider context of the Partnership’s programme. Much positive work is being done at Wick airport by HIA – such as the completion of runway resurfacing; enhanced landing lighting; an excellent new café facility and work to improve availability of car hire.

Members of Caithness Transport Forum and Dounreay Stakeholder Group met last week with Direct Rail Services (DRS), the company who will begin to move fuels from Dounreay to Sellafield. The company said that work has started on the freight terminal at Georgemas. The company also indicated that it was seeking other commercial business for the terminal, which provides hope for longer-term benefit to the local economy from the facility.

Highland Council this week announced it will be organising a series of information/ preparation meetings in communities marking the progress of the Olympic Torch round the UK. As previously covered, there will be an event at John O’Groats on the evening of Sunday 10th June, and Council officials are arranging a meeting in Caithness in early April to discuss ideas for the event. There has been some press coverage suggesting  that the John O’Groats event is of secondary importance because it is not part of the official torch relay route, and that the torch and flame to be used at John O’Groats are therefore not “official”. However, the flame at the John O’ Groats event will have been lit from the official Olympic flame that comes to the UK from Greece.

Scottish Government this week announced the ICT business enhancement programme, which is designed to support small to medium sized enterprises exploit digital opportunities. The two year scheme is being run in association with both HIE and Business Gateway and will include workshops, seminars and events to help companies develop their own ICT action plans, and an online Business IT Guide with factsheets, diagnostics and an ‘ask the expert’ resource. http://www.scotland.gov.uk/News/Releases/2012/03/HIDigitalfunding19032012 The scheme will complement the ongoing procurement of Next Generation Broadband connectivity for the area – HIE’s Stuart Robertson met last week with local businesses to give an update on the discussions with BT Scotland on the latter programme, which is still on course for contract award this summer.

Communications:
As part of an ongoing process of helping communicate progress with the delivery of aspects of our economic transition programme CNSRP’s partners work together to generate news stories for local, regional and national media. I also speak on a regular basis to individuals and organisations across the area to update on progress. This week:

  • Both the John O’Groat Journal and Caithness-business.co.uk carried news of Caithness firm Energy Hunt’s recent achievement of DNV certification, to support its business in the renewables sector. Scottish Government Energy Enterprise and Tourism Minister Fergus Ewing and CNSRP Chairman Sir Anthony Cleaver are both quoted in the press release welcoming the news. http://www.johnogroat-journal.co.uk/News/Minister-hails-companys-green-credentials-15032012.htm
  • The Northern Times carries news of today’s (Friday’s) launch of the Nigg Skills Academy by First Minister Alex Salmond. North Highland College is a key partner in delivering elements of the Academy’s work. http://www.northern-times.co.uk/News/First-Minister-launches-Nigg-Skills-Academy-23032012.htm
  • The Partnership’s Delivery Group met this week, and received a presentation from the consultants working on the study into the Socio-economic Impact of Dounreay. A final version of the report will be ready for presentation to the socio-economic subgroup of the Dounreay Stakeholder Group and the CNSRP Advisory Board.