I took part in a workshop to help develop a bid going in to UK Government for pilot project to roll out superfast broadband. The UK Government is currently seeking pilot proposals from across the UK. This is something we identified early in our Action Plan as a priority, and I’m pleased to say that both HIE and Highland Council are very supportive of the importance of better and faster IT Connectivity, both for existing local businesses with increasing data transfer requirements, and for any new businesses we will wish to attract to the area.
I discussed with Highland Council colleagues the plans to take forward lessons from recent events at the Castle of Mey (marine energy) and from last week’s trip to Cumbria. Developing our onshore plan for marine energy is of particular relevance, and we will be pursuing this with colleagues from the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment, who led the event at the Castle of Mey. The aim would be to develop a plan which helped to “de-risk” investment into this area. Tourism Resources Company is conducting a study on behalf of HIE into how future visitor accommodation needs might change based on the Dounreay decommissioning programme and the emerging opportunities in marine energy. A business survey is currently underway.
I met with a local consultant gaining work contracts from marine energy developers. It was good to hear that contracts are now being let, and I am aware of several local companies securing contracts in the initial stages of Pentland Firth Round 1 consenting, stakeholder engagement etc. Last week saw both Pelamis Wave Power and Scottish Power Renewables commencing their respective community engagement work in the area, and I expect this to continue over the coming months.
Further news was issued today from Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd regarding the timetable for the 182 job losses announced back in March. 102 posts are due to be lost this year, with a further 30 and 50 in the following two years. Also announced was a change to the date by which the decommissioning process will be completed. Reflecting the capped site budget the new date may be in the period 2032-2039 (as opposed to the current 2025), although it may contract again over the next 12 months as the site PBO competition progresses. The CNSRP focus will not change as a result of the changed date: the partners know that our key challenge is to seek diversified employment opportunities in the short and medium term. The partners’ joint commitment to focusing in particular on energy and business services remains.
Finally, Scottish Government is consulting on a paper produced by its Rural Development Council, on which Pat Buchanan from Dunbeath sits. Entitled Speak Up for Rural Scotland, it is the result of a request from Scottish Government Ministers to the RDC to help find out how best rural Scotland could contribute to sustainable economic growth. David Whiteford (Chairman of the North Highland Initiative) and I were lucky enough to be able to make presentations to the RDC last October as they were beginning to develop their thinking. This is an important piece of work, and the Scottish Government has said it will consider very seriously both the document and any comments they receive on it. You can access the document and comment at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2010/07/22091602/1