Several members of the CNSRP Advisory Board visited Orkney on Monday/ Tuesday this week. It was a useful and constructiive visit. Meetings were held at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Stromness, and with Orkney Harbours and Orkney Islands Council. Visits to test sites for both wave and tidal devices were organised, as was a visit to Lyness harbour in Hoy. The clear view from Orkney colleagues was that if we are to maximise the economic benfits from marine energy then the very strong assets in Caithness will be crucially important. Many thanks to HIE colleagues in both Caithness and Orkney for organising this trip.
I met with colleagues from HIE, DSRL, Highland Council and NDA to agree arrangements for the workshop being held in two weeks’ time at which CNSRP partners will discuss and agree priorities for delivery through the regeneration programme over the next 3-5 year period.
Anna MacConnell (NDA), Ian Hargrave (Highland Council) and I met with Highland Councillors George Farlow and Linda Munro from the North, West and Central Sutherland Ward and Ward manager Andy Mackay to update them on current activities, and to highlight issues and opportunities within our work that are most relevant to the north Sutherland area. Collegaues in Sutherland have been working hard on a Sutherland Action Plan over the last 12 months, and we want to ensure that we remain in close contact.
I attended the Dounreay Stakeholders’ Group this week. The main discussion on socio-economics focused on the need to address shorter-term employment issues as the announcment of job losses at DSRL and in the Dounreay supply chain begin to bite. I maintain a database of employment projections, and it was generally agreed that we need to have a better common understanding of what our area is capable of delivering in terms of new jobs and retention of existing jobs over the next ten years. We have developed some excellent working partnerships in this area over the past few years, but I highlighted that the changed and changing economic landscape in the UK and beyond is likely to mean that we continue to review how we work together, and where necessary bring together specific partnerships to deliver elements of our programme.
Two good current examples of how this works in the ground in our area are Workforce development and IT connectivity. I have mentioned both before. This week saw the submission by Skills Development Scotland of a Stage 1 bid for European Social Fund support for a major skills programme for Caithness & north Sutherland. The programme seeks to bring together direct DSRL and supply chain workforces to connect with future opportunities and find support where needed with retraining etc. The programme will also target new entrants to the workforce through apprenticeships. The Partnership started this off back February with a general discussion on skills development based on the findings of the HIE-commissioned Skills Audit for Caithness & North Sutherland. Two parallel workstreams (workforce development led by NDA and apprenticeships led by T3UK) have since then been focusing on more detailed plans. This bid brings those together, and has involved DSRL, NDA, Skills Development Scotland, Caithness Chamber of Commerce, North Highland College, T3UK, local supply chain companies and others. It’s an alliance of interests that I think will be able to make this work well for the area – we should hear back on the Stage 1 bid very soon, and if successful a more detailed bid will be required by mid-August. Final decisions on the bid will not be made until December this year.
The other example, IT connectivity, has seen a small group of local IT companies, Caithness Chamber of Commerce, Citizens Online and HIE come together to address what was generally felt to be a crucial future issue for us – our digital connectivity. Since it came together under the CNSRP banner last November we have moved on considerably: HIE commissioned a study into the issue, which revealed some very positive opportunities for the area. The group is now working with Caithness Chamber to get a better understanding of business usage and requirements for data storage and transfer, with a view to having a strong business case for better connectivity. The value of this to existing local businesses and to potential inward investors is clear, and the alliance of companies/ organisations built up over the last 8 months has been crucial in making that case.