Weekly update, 10th December

Energy:
As the first tranche of engineering students to enroll at the Engineering, Technology and Energy Centre (ETEC) in Thurso reach the end of the first session on the North Highland College apprenticeship programme, an excellent film has been produced that highlights both the students and the state-of-the-art facilities they are able to use, as well as highlighting the wider rationale for why investing in a future workforce in the energy sector is so vital. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2v-Ac26wdq4&feature=youtu.be The issue of skills and future workforce is also featured heavily in the “Energy North Supplement” published this week by Scottish Provincial Press. As previously reported I contributed an article based on the recent wave & tidal information day held in Thurso by the Pentland Firth & Orkney Waters Leadership Forum, and the very positive response to it from local High School pupils and teachers. The supplement features a number of good articles on current energy sector issues in the north.

Enabling Activities:
Welcome news this week that the NDA has agreed to proceed to the next stage of the National Nuclear Archive (NNA) project. The facility, to be built on Highland Council owned land near Wick John O’ Groats Airport, will provide long-term storage of records and other archive material from civil nuclear sites in the UK.  The  archive will be operated on NDA’s behalf by a specialist commercial partner and is expected to bring more than 20 sustainable jobs to the area economy. As well as containing nuclear records from across Britain, the NDA is working with The Highland Council to ensure that the NNA will also provide a new, publicly-accessible home for the Council’s North Highland Archive. The NDA’s current plans are that a commercial partner will be appointed by mid-2013 and the facility will be operational in early 2016. (see communications below for press coverage).

I met this week with colleagues from HIE, Dounreay and Caithness Chamber of Commerce to review progress with activities to support the attraction of inward investments, and to understand how best resources can be shared to achieve further success for the area. 2013 is likely to be an important year as we learn more about planning applications in the marine and offshore wind energy sectors, so it is important that we are able to provide a strong, up-to-date proposition. June Love, who is seconded on a part-time basis from Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd to HIE, is leading efforts in this area. The issue was also discussed at this week’s meeting of the CNSRP Executive Board (see “communications” below for more on that meeting).

Job Centre Plus is teaming up with Stagecoach to offer free bus travel for unemployed jobseekers during January, aimed at holders of the JobCentre Plus Travel Discount Card. Coverage of the news is carried in this week’s Northern Times at http://www.northern-times.co.uk/News/Bus-10122012.htm

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:

  • The Partnership’s Executive Board met in Wick today (Friday 14th). The Board members discussed the main points raised by the Partnership’s Advisory Board at its recent meeting (reported previously in my weekly updates), and in particular the need to understand labour market issues affecting existing company growth aspirations. As reported last week I will continue working with Skills Development Scotland, Job Centre Plus, Highland Council, Caithness Chamber of Commerce on these issues. Related discussion also took place on actions to ensure the area continues to be an attractive proposition for individuals looking to relocate to take up employment opportunities. The important role of reaching business audiences in key economic zones was discussed, and the valuable contribution being made in this respect by the network of Caithness Ambassadors was highlighted. Discussion also took place on measures to ensure that the Partnership maintained a clear, coherent approach to priority projects.
  • I attended the Dounreay Stakeholder Group meeting this week. The meeting heard presentations from David Cowie (Highland Council) on the Dounreay Planning Framework, which will be issued for public consultation in the near future; from DSRL’s Change Director Alastair MacDonald on the company’s approach to procurement and its socio-economic impacts; and from Tom Smith (Ministry of Defence) on activities at the Vulcan Naval Test Reactor Establishment.
  • Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander MP this week announced the first Scottish recipients of grant awards from the Coastal Communities Fund. This UK-wide Fund was announced last year, aimed at supporting sustainable economic development and jobs. Amongst the 19 successful projects was one to develop access to Thurso Harbour.  http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/press_123_12.htm
  • Positive reaction has come to NDA’s announcement of progress with the National Nuclear Archive project, a flavour of which is in John O’ Groat Journal, Press & Journal, The Scotsman http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/heritage/plans-for-14m-nuclear-industry-archive-in-caithness-given-green-light-1-2690092 and BBC News http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-20694873