Weekly update, 9th July 2012

Tourism:
Natural Retreats, the operators of the new development at John O’Groats, confirmed in this week’s local press the good news that the high-quality self-catering lodges at its site should be completed by early August, with already encouraging levels of interest. A shop called the Storehouse will also open in August, selling produce and goods from local businesses. The development of the self-catering apartments at the former John O’Groats House Hotel building is already underway and should be completed by next year.

Enabling Activities:
The full funding package for the detailed design works relating to realignment of the A9 Trunk Road at Berriedale has now been approved. The package will consist of £100,000 from each of Transport Scotland and the NDA, with £10,000 each from Highland Council and HITRANS. Confirmation of Transport Scotland’s contribution was announced this week by Scottish Government Transport Minister Keith Brown MSP whilst on a visit to Scrabster harbour to meet representatives of Serco, the new operators of the northern isles ferry link. More detail at  http://www.johnogroat-journal.co.uk/News/220k-funding-agreed-for-Berriedale-upgrade-plans.htm and http://www.northern-times.co.uk/News/220000-pledged-for-Berriedale-improvement-plans-09072012.htm

Highland Council this week announced the launch of its Employment Grants scheme, where small to medium sized companies can apply for support of £150 per month for 6 months (1 year for 16-19 years olds) to help the costs of taking on additional staff. Further information on the scheme is available from the Council’s Employability Team on 01463 702912, or e-mail:  Employability@highland.gov.uk  or at www.highland.gov.uk/employgrants I have also been discussing employability issues this week with colleagues in local organisations including Highland Council’s Employability team, Skills Development Scotland and North Highland College, and will meet several of them next week to check progress with specific issues such as a proposed “future skills/jobs” event aimed at improving information on future areas of employment opportunity.

HIE has announced a consultation on Broadband coverage across the Highlands & Islands as it makes progress towards signing a contract to deliver the roll-out of Next Generation (superfast) Broadband. Last year, HIE published a provisional list of 50 settlements, including locations in Caithness & North Sutherland, which appeared to offer the best potential to introduce the service quickly to a mix of remote mainland and island communities and larger centres. This consultation aims to test the accuracy of data HIE holds on the current and future provision of broadband, and will help inform the detailed roll-out plans. The consultation runs until 13th August, and you can take part at http://www.hie.co.uk/digital/consultation.html

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:

  • Today’s local press carries discussion on the impact of the recent fog on flights to and from Wick airport. Rob Gibson MSP focused on the need for improved landing systems. Trudy Morris of Caithness Chamber of Commerce and Anna MacConnell of the NDA are also quoted, and they emphasised that CNSRP recognises the importance of the airport to the area’s future economy.