Weekly update, 23rd September 2013

Energy/ Business Services:

Next week sees a meeting in Aberdeen of the Scottish Government/ Energy North Oil & Gas Task Force for the Highlands & Islands, which has been established under the chairmanship of Fergus Ewing MSP, the Scottish Government Energy Minister. Several representatives from Caithness/ North Sutherland will attend the event as the north continues to attract attention from the oil & gas industry, both for its infrastructure and its supply chain companies. The Task Force’s aim is to give prominence to and connect the oil & gas supply chain across the Highlands and Islands to key oil & gas decision-making centres in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and London.

Tourism Food & Drink:

John O’Groats was the venue today (Friday) for the launch of the “World Host” training initiative being led in the north by Caithness Chamber of Commerce. VisitScotland Chief Executive Malcolm Roughead launched the initiative with the very welcome news that John O’Groats has become the first area-based World Host in the country, with a number of businesses in and around John O’Groats having gone through the accreditation via training carried out by Ellie Lamont. Caithness Chamber itself has become the first Chamber of Commerce in the UK to achieve the accreditation. It was good to be able to talk to Mr Roughead and to Scott Armstrong, Visitscotland’s Area Manager, about the encouraging progress being made at John O’Groats, and wider activities within the tourism industry in the north. World Host is an international brand, and was used very successfully to improve the overall customer/ visitor experience for the London Olympics. The initiative was taken forward under the “Make The Right Connections” skills transition programme, which was established with funding from the European Social Fund, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Dounreay and Skills Development Scotland. More info at http://www.worldhost.uk.com and information on the Caithness/ North Sutherland initiative from skills@caithnesschamber.com

I met this week with Frances Gunn and Ronnie Lansley from CVS North to talk through some of the exciting work currently happening in north Sutherland. Of particular interest is the ongoing work being done at Strathnaver Museum in Bettyhill, which in turn supports the wider Mackay Country project. It was good to see that discussions on particular intiatives such as cycling events are being taken forward.  CVS North is represented on the CNSRP Advisory Board.

Enabling activities:

Caithness Chamber of Commerce has launched the Caithness Business Fund. The scheme is the result of discussions between the chamber and Baillie Windfarm, who will contribute £25,000 per year. The Fund is aimed at young people starting up new businesses or growing an existing business in Caithness or North Sutherland. The Fund will make awards of between £100 and £5,000 and made its first two awards to Hamilton Optimum Training and B’Dazzled. Chris Hamilton of Hamilton Optimum Training was also announced as the Chamber’s George Bruce Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2013 at the Chamber’s Annual Dinner last week. He succeeds last year’s winner Lynsey MacGregor of Lark & Lilly Designs. More info on the new Fund at http://www.caithnessbusinessfund.co.uk

Both Caithness Transport Forum and the Wick John O’Groats Airport committee met this week. It was good to hear of further encouraging progress being made with the design phase of the Berriedale Brae project. This phase is funded by Transport Scotland, NDA, Highland Council and HITRANS, and the aim is to have a “shovel-ready” project available. It was also good to hear from Loganair/ Flybe and Eastern Airways that scheduled passenger traffic at Wick John O’ Groats airport continues to perform well. Today marks that start of an additional two Friday afternoon flights (Edinburgh-Wick-Edinburgh) on the Wick-Edinburgh route, a sign that confidence in the route is growing. We also agreed to work with local partners to examine hotel capacity in the area in relation to ongoing requirements for energy traffic.

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 Dounreay Stakeholder Group met this week, and I updated members on current activities, based on my quarterly written reports to the Group’s socio-economic subgroup. The latest of these (from the July subgroup meeting) can be downloaded at http://www.dounreaystakeholdergroup.org/files/downloads/download2397.pdf
  • Scottish Provincial Press published its “Energy North” supplement with all its titles this week (John O’Groat Journal, Northern Times, Rosshire Journal, Inverness Courier, Northern Star) – I was delighted to be asked to contribute an article, in which I focused on recent news such as the consent to develop given to Meygen, and the visit by local businesses to an offshore wind supply base at Lowestoft.
  • Big Box Network, one of several companies behind a resurgence of interest in the creative industries in the north, is behind a new project: a documentary about widely-respected Caithness poet and playwright George Gunn, whose work continues to attract acclaim. http://www.johnogroat-journal.co.uk/News/Playwright-is-the-focus-of-new-film-26092013.htm