Weekly update, 23rd March

Energy & Business Services

It was good to meet up this week with directors of Abbey Group, whose company Abbey Ecosse has taken over ownership of the Forss Science and Technology Park. It was particularly good to hear of the company’s exciting plans for the Forss site, which should see good news over the coming months.

CNSRP partner Skills Development Scotland has this week published an updated version of its Energy Skills Investment Plan. The Plan has been refreshed since the impact of falling oil prices has affected oil & gas employment in Scotland, and contains much of interest as we work together as partners in the north. It sits alongside the other sectoral Skills Investment Plans and the Highlands and Islands Skills Investment Plan. The plan is available to view at http://www.skillsdevelopmentscotland.co.uk/resources/skills-investment-plans/

Tourism, Food & Drink

Further good news for the north’s food & drink sector in this Year of Food & Drink, with this week’s announcement by Scrabster Seafoods that a new processing plant is to be established at Scrabster to allow the company to diversify into processing the significant volumes of crab landed at the harbour. The move has been supported by a grant of £119,832 from CNSRP partner HIE, and will lead to the creation of around 25 new jobs at the company’s Scrabster base over the next three years. http://www.hie.co.uk/about-hie/news-and-media/archive/expansion-plans-for-caithness-seafood-company.html#sthash.NdGgvOlE.dpbs

Rock Rose Gin has been awarded “Best New Launch Design” at the prestigious World Gin Awards 2015. Although the gin itself was not available in time for this prestigious competition, it is good to see the distinctively Caithness-influenced product winning a design award. The product is made by Dunnet Bay Distillers Ltd, who attracted support from CNSRP partners HIE and NDA (the latter via the North Highland Regeneration Fund). More at http://www.worldginawards.com/2015/

As mentioned in a recent blog, the Flow to the Future project is progressing – you can read more in the latest project newsletter at http://www.snh.org.uk/pdfs/publications/e_newsletters/Peatlands%20Partnership%20Newsletter%20Spring%202015.pdf

Enabling activities:

CNSRP partner the NDA this week gained planning consent to construct its Nuclear Archive in Wick on ground near Wick John O’ Groats airport. The Archive will also provide a home for CNSRP partner Highland Council’s existing North Highland Archive. The day after the consent was given Simon Tucker, NDA’s Head of Information Governance gave a presentation to the CNSRP Advisory Board (see Communications below) and that same evening I attended a meeting with NDA staff and Dounreay Stakeholder Group members to hear further detail on the remaining delivery schedule for the project, which is on the CNSRP high-level programme. More information on the project, and the NDA’s wider Information Governance programme is at http://www.nda.gov.uk/2015/03/go-ahead-for-nuclear-archive/ 

The “Spirit of Caithness” project continues to make progress. The project is part of the “Fourteen” programme which was created to maximise the legacy of last year’s Glasgow Commonwealth Games. £250,000 will be available in Caithness over a three year period for initiatives covering “sports, culture, arts, volunteering and community action.” Decisions on how to target the funding will be made by a community panel, and members of that panel are currently being sought. There will be two public meetings (Monday 30th March 7.30pm Castletown Drill Hall, Wednesday 1st April 10am Reiss Village Hall) where more information will be given on the project and the role of the panel. The project, which is managed by Foundation Scotland through Thurso-based Eilidh Gunn, is also on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/spiritofcaithness and Eilidh can be contacted at eilidh@foundationscotland.org.uk

CNSRP partner HIE has this week published its “Digital Scotland – Highlands & Islands” report, which surveyed businesses throughout the Highlands and Islands region to establish a baseline for future measurement of the digital economy. The survey looked at both adoption and usage of digital technology, as well as digital skills gaps and business views on future usage of digital technologies. The Executive Summary and full version of the report are available at http://www.hie.co.uk/regional-information/economic-reports-and-research/archive/digital-scotland—highlands-and-islands-research.html Also on the subject of surveys, the area-wide survey of 15-30 years olds’ attitudes to the Highlands and Islands is entering its final two weeks, so there is still time for people in this age group to submit an entry, which will also enter them into a competition to win one of five pairs of tickets for this year’s Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival. The survey is at www.hie.co.uk/haveyoursay

HIE has also published its latest Operating Plan. “Building Our Future – 2015-2018” was launched this week by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP. The Plan highlights efforts to support innovation, investment, internationalisation and inclusive growth. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of HIE’s predecessor the Highlands & Islands Development Board. More at http://www.hie.co.uk/about-hie/news-and-media/archive/first-minister-launches-hie-s-three-year-plan.html#sthash.YnUyqTwj.dpbs

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:

  • Rob Gibson MSP hosted an event for CNSRP at the Scottish Parliament this week. The event, which drew attendees mainly from the energy sector across the UK, was timed to coincide with this week’s Scottish Renewables Annual Conference in Edinburgh. It featured presentations from Dan Pearson of MeyGen and Simon Middlemas of Cavendish Nuclear, with an overview of opportunities by Roy Kirk of CNSRP partner Highlands and Islands Enterprise. Also in attendance were representatives from Caithness Chamber of Commerce and Wick Harbour Authority. The event is one in an ongoing series of events coordinated by Inward Investment Manager June Love, who is seconded to HIE from CNSRP partner Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd. Events like these are aimed at raising and maintaining awareness of our area as a location from which to do business.
  • The CNSRP Advisory Board met this week in Wick. The meeting heard an update presentation on the NDA’s Nuclear Archive project from Simon Tucker of the NDA, following confirmation of planning consent. It is likely that the contract for the design and build of the facility will be announced very soon, with first groundworks expected around July. A procurement process to deliver a commercial partner to run the facility is also well underway. It is expected that the facility will be receiving its first archive materials in late 2016. The Advisory Board members also considered my latest written report and made comments on current progress with our major projects. The meeting, chaired by Cllr Drew Hendry, Leader of the Highland Council, also welcomed NHS Highland to its first meeting. 
  • I provided one of a regular series of articles to this month’s edition of “Energy North” which is published today (Friday). The supplement is published by Scottish Provincial Press and is issued with all SPP titles in the north, including the John O’Groat Journal, Northern Times, Rossshire Journal, Inverness Courier. My article took some current uncertainties in the energy market and highlighted that many of the drivers for change reflect Caithness/ North Sutherland advantages we have been promoting to key target companies.