Weekly Update, 11th March

Energy:

Applications from Meygen Ltd and Moray Offshore Renewables Ltd will go before next Tuesday’s meeting of the Highland Council’s North Planning Applications Committee. You can view the applications at http://www.highland.gov.uk/yourcouncil/committees/npac-comms/2013-03-19-npac-ag.htm

Business Services:

Good news this week that recent investment by HIE in local company Escape Technologies has helped create 4 new jobs, bringing the company’s staffing complement to 9 as it moves into new premises in Thurso town centre. The company provides IT infrastructure consultancy and support to local, national and international clients in the oil and gas industry, but has also diversified into the construction and renewable industries as well as nuclear. Company founder Mike Bain is originally from Thurso, and highlighted the available skills in the area as a key part of the company’s decision to invest. He also said that he sees further growth opportunities for the company. http://www.hie.co.uk/about-hie/news-and-media/archive/it-company-expands-workforce-at-its-thurso-base.html

I also spoke this week with Richard Stoneham of Aon Hewitt as the company consolidates its presence in Caithness following the purchase of the Pensions Administration Office from Babcock.

Tourism, food & drink

Events and festivals remain an important part of our tourism offer (and an opportunity for our food and drink sector). This weekend sees the Scottish Surfing Championships taking place at Thurso, and Caithness Astronomy Group is staging a “Wild Skies Weekend” this weekend, with events at Castlehill Heritage Centre tonight (Friday) at 6.45pm, tomorrow (Saturday) at Thurso High School at 1.30pm and tomorrow night at Dunnet beach’s Seadrift Centre at 6.30pm.  Science 03 is again staging the Caithness Science Festival, with events running throughout Caithness until 22nd March. And on Easter weekend the Northern Nashville Caithness Country Music Festival will again bring large numbers of visitors to the area.

Enabling Activities:

I participated this week in the stakeholder group for the Engineering, Technology & Energy Centre (ETEC) at North Highland College in Thurso. The ETEC facility is generally acknowledged to be the best of its kind in Scotland, and the College has taken innovative steps to develop an apprenticeship model that has the support of industry. It was good to hear from ETEC’s Alan Ogg about the progress being made in developing curriculum, and the productive relationships developed with Global Energy at Nigg and with SSE. We discussed steps to ensure the sustainability of the apprenticeship model the College has developed.

A reminder that Foundation Scotland, the organisation that is working on a “Caithness conversation” around the issue of how community benefit funds can be best used for the wider Caithness area, will be running open events in the area to help understand views on the issue, and to talk about examples of best practice in managing funds. Two “café” events (lunch and conversation) will take place next week: on Friday 22nd March, from 1.30pm-5pm at PPP’s new Pulteney Centre in Wick, and on Saturday 23rd March from 10am-1.30pm in the Royal British Legion in Thurso. In the meantime responses are invited to a survey in support of Foundation Scotland’s work on this issue: more information at www.npower-renewables.com/caithnessconversation

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:

  • I attended the AGM and ordinary meetings of the Dounreay Stakeholder Group this week. Chairman Bob Earnshaw had indicated he would stand down, although he will remain on the DSG as chair of the Site Restoration Subgroup. The new Chair of the DSG is David Flear, and vice-Chair will be Anne Chard. Derrick Milnes stays on as Chair of the Socio-economic Subgroup. The meeting also heard a presentation from Roger Hardy, Managing Director of Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd, on the new Life Time Plan for site site following Babcock Dounreay Partnership’s consolidation phase of work. Roger Hardy leaves his current role at the end of this month, at which point Mark Rouse will take over as Managing Director. Roger will, however, continue to take an active role in socio-economics relating to the area. I also delivered my quarterly update to the meeting, highlighting recent progress.
  • Scottish Provincial Press’s excellent “Energy North” supplement was published this week with local newspapers in the Highlands. This edition features a major interview with Wick Harbour Authority Chair Willie Watt and Vice-chair Gordon Doull focusing on the exciting plans for the harbour and the wider economy. The publication also features stories on the recent agreement between the Pentland Firth & Orkney Waters Marine Energy Park and its SW England equivalent. As I noted last week, I contributed an article that focused on this year being the 25th anniversary of the announcement of Dounreay’s closure, and on the recent Charrettes and “Jobs & How To Get Them” event.
  • Wick Harbour Authority’s positive views on the future are also the subject of a front page article in this week’s John O’Groat Journal.
  • Coverage stemming from last week’s meeting of the Wick John O’Groats Airport Consultative Committee is in this week’s Caithness Courier, with hopes that the current arrangement between HIAL, Far North Aviation and Chevron will be extended for the rest of 2013, and potential for other oil & gas traffic to be attracted to Wick. http://www.johnogroat-journal.co.uk/News/Wick-Airport-looks-to-build-on-chopper-traffic-boost-12032013.htm
  • Finally, I was delighted to see that Mackay’s Hotel in Wick has become the first hotel in the country to gain recognition as a “World Host” business, and the first business in the Highlands and Islands. Well done to Murray, Ellie and the team.