Weekly update, 12th June

Energy & business services:
• The offshore construction phase of the Caithness- Moray programme to enhance the north’s electricity distribution grid has reached a significant milestone with the laying of the first sections of the subsea cable across the Moray Firth. As previously highlighted here the programme has involved construction of two large switching stations at Spittal in Caithness and Blackhillock in Moray, as well as underground HVDC cabling from Spittal to Noss Head near Wick, from where directional drilling through the cliff has enabled the current work to take place using purpose-built ship the NKT Victoria. Work also continues at the HVDC station at Spittal. More info and photos at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-40264065
• There is an interesting report out this week from Scottish Natural Heritage, based on 10 years of studies on the effects of wave and tidal energy devices at EMEC in Orkney on seabirds and marine mammals. Key finding is that both mammals and seabirds will continue to use the waters around operational wave/ tidal devices. Scientists believe that there is some effect on populations during construction phases, but that numbers recovered once this phase is completed. More information is at https://www.snhpresscentre.com/news/wave-and-tidal-energy-study-finds-no-long-term-disturbance-to-wildlife
• CNSRP partner Highlands and Islands Enterprise has worked with both Wick Harbour Authority and Scrabster Harbour Trust to produce short videos highlighting the recent achievements and future aspirations for the ports and the area economy. The videos are available to view at the YouTube channel of HI-Energy at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCjNhGSu_xpqucPYg1ZEghw
• I mentioned in last week’s update that staff at the pensions office at Forss have had good news regarding their jobs, and it was also good to hear that another of the area’s main business services companies, BT, is to bring 120 staff at its Thurso contact centre under permanent BT employment (where currently they are employed by agency provider Manpower UK). BT was the first success for the Thurso Business Park – the contact centre now runs as a 24/7 operation, and has recently undergone investment in its facilities and systems. The low level of staff turnover, and high level of skills evident at the centre demonstrate some of the key attributes being used in seeking other inward investment opportunities for the area. http://www.johnogroat-journal.co.uk/News/Long-serving-Manpower-staff-in-Thurso-to-get-BT-contracts-13062017.htm

Enabling Activities:
• I mentioned the ongoing roll out of fibre broadband in last week’s update, and further news this week that BT is to pilot an innovative approach to reaching remoter communities. Two north Sutherland communities (Altnaharra and Skerray) have been earmarked to benefit from “ultrafast” fibre which can offer download speeds of up to 330Mbps, as opposed to the UK average speed of 36.2 Mbps. http://www.scotsman.com/future-scotland/tech/highlanders-dig-in-to-bring-broadband-to-their-rural-homes-1-4474849

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:
• This weekend I will be presenting at the Highlands & Islands Conference of the STUC, where I will talk about progress with our programme to transition the area economy away from its dependence on Dounreay work.
• I attended last week’s meeting of the Caithness Community Planning Partnership in Dunbeath. It was good to hear of progress in drafting and Adult Plan for the area, and of progress in consulting with four localities within the area. The extent to which agencies are working together to deliver was very encouraging. Find out more about Community Planning and access all meeting details at http://www.highlandcpp.org.uk/caithness-community-partnership.html
• Congratulations to Charlotte Wright, who was this week announced as the Chief Executive of CNSRP partner Highlands and Islands Enterprise. Charlotte was the interim Chief Executive from August last year, following Alex Paterson’s move to become Chief Executive of Historic Environment Scotland. http://news.hie.co.uk/all-news/enterprise-agency-appoints-chief-executive/