Weekly update, 22nd October 2012

Energy:
Scottish Government has announced the launch of the £103M Renewable Energy Investment Fund (REIF). Initial priorities for the REIF are wave and tidal energy, community-owned renewables and renewable district heating, as well as other projects with a focus on innovative renewable energy technologies. The Fund is designed to complement existing public and private sector finance schemes available in Scotland, providing bespoke investment deals typically involving loans, loan guarantees and equity finance alongside co-investment partners. The fund will be delivered by the Scottish Investment Bank on behalf of the Scottish Government and its enterprise agencies, with the first deals expected to be completed by the end of the financial year. The Fund is designed to support projects that are significantly advanced but have a demonstrable funding gap.

A Conference on the internationally-important Peatlands of Caithness and Sutherland has been held in Thurso this week. It was organised by the Environmental Research Institute, the RSPB and the NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, and supported by HIE. The event, which attracted a range of representatives from across the UK, sought to launch the area as a key hub for peatlands research, and to raise awareness of the Peatlands’ role as a key carbon store.

Local businesses and Caithness Chamber of Commerce staff were this week at an event held by Scottish Power Renewables for potential suppliers for its tidal demonstration project at Islay. SPR also holds a lease for the tidal site at the Ness of Duncansby, which is its chosen Saltire Prize competition site.

I attended the first meeting this week of a group set up to develop a “campus” to maximise the local onshore economic benefits of marine energy. The group, brought together by HIE, includes industry, academic and public sector representation.

Business Services:
Babcock this week announced the sale of its Pensions Administration Office (PAO) to AON Hewitt. The 33 staff currently working at the PAO will all transfer to the new company, and AON Hewitt’s UK Chief Executive has said that the company is “committed to growing the business in Caithness over the coming years”. See communications below for more reaction.

Tourism/ Food & Drink:
The “Wave North” Festival began in Thurso yesterday (Thursday) and will continue through to Sunday. The event – which is led by Caithness Horizons and supported by Creative Scotland, Highland Council, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and a range of local businesses – features music, art, film and craft activities, as well as skateboarding and BMX demonstrations at a purpose built ramp at Thurso harbour. It runs for the second time this year following a successful first event in March. This time it runs in parallel with the UK Pro-Surf Tour’s Thurso Surfing Championships. This large event is sponsored by Scottish Power Renewables and supported by Event Scotland.

Another natural asset we can boast of in the north is the night sky. And “dark skies” tourism has been the subject of much attention over recent months. It is good to note that last week’s announcement by Dark Skies Discovery of the UK’s best sites to observe the skies include Castlehill Heritage Centre in Castletown. Castletown Heritage Society and Caithness Astronomy Group have done much to promote our area. You can read the full list of sites at http://www.darkskydiscovery.org.uk/dark-sky-discovery-sites/map.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: