Weekly update, 12th May

Energy & Business Services:

Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission held a “meet the buyer/ meet the employer” event in North Highland College’s ETEC this week, and I was delighted to be invited to have a presence at the event with partner staff from HIE, Highland Council, Caithness Chamber and JobCentre Plus. The event allowed SSE and supply-chain companies Balfour Beatty, ABB, Amec and Siemens to outline opportunities from the £1.3Bn programme to invest in the electricity transmission network in the north. SSE launched its video which shows that the project will involve a new HVDC converter station at Spittal, connecting via underground HVDC cable to the Caithness coast at Noss Head, from where an undersea cable to will be laid to a site near Keith in Moray. It was good to talk to College students and businesses about the range of opportunities before us at present, and to hear the optimism being felt.

Preparations are being made for local companies to attend next week’s All-Energy Conference & Exhibition in Aberdeen. CNSRP partners have taken a lead role in facilitating this: HIE’s Energy Pavilion will once again be the focal point for many, with several Caithness companies having a presence on the Highland Council-led “Enterprising Highland” stand. HIE’s local inward investment team will also be in Aberdeen for a series of meetings with companies as part of our ongoing programme of inward investment activity.

Our area continues to be a focus for international attention in marine energy. The Environmental Research Institute at NorthHighlandCollege is working with CENSIS (the Innovation Centre for Sensor and Imaging Systems) and RenewNet to run an event in Thurso next month examining the potential for sensor systems in supporting the marine energy sector.

Tourism, Food & Drink:

Following last week’s successful visit of the MV Voyager, Scrabster Harbour Trust welcomed another influx of cruise ship passengers this week with the arrival of the Saga Pearl II en route from St Kilda to Leith. CNSRP partner the Highland Council again funded a shuttle bus service from the port into Thurso for those passengers not participating in trips to attractions such as the Castle & Gardens of Mey. It was good to hear from Caithness Horizons Chairman Paul Cariss that feedback from passengers on the area’s attractiveness was extremely positive.

This weekend sees the first of the three mini-festivals which make up Caithness Horizons’ exciting “Year of Ancient Ancestors” programme, supported by a range of organisations including CNSRP partners Highland Council, NDA and DSRL. There will be events on over this weekend for the Pictish Caithness mini-festival. Strathnaver Museum in Bettyhill is also gearing up for a weekend of events this weekend, as the museum hosts a parade, play, music and the opening of an exhibition.

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:

  • It was great to meet this week with representatives from Denchi Power, the Thurso-based company formerly called ABSL Power Solutions Ltd. Denchi Power’s forward plans offer significant potential for the area as they build on the established reputation in power solutions. Together with AGM Batteries Ltd their growth plans have been supported by CNSRP partner HIE.
  • A number of local and regional stakeholders were invited to the official opening of the Low-level waste facility at Dounreay this week. The project also saw the establishment of the Caithness & North Sutherland Fund, which is a £4M fund to support projects to enhance the attractiveness of our area as a place in which to live work and invest. Following receipt of an initial £1M in 2011 the Fund, which is run by a community company, has gone on the approve grants worth around £850,000 to 65 groups, with a total project value of almost £4.5M. A further £300,000 will be added to the Fund each year for the next ten years.
  • Finally, in another sign of increasing confidence in the area, the John O’Groat Journal has this week thrown its weight behind a proposal to create a Caithness flag.