This update comes to you as we face exceptionally challenging and unprecedented times as individuals, communities and organisations due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The long term work of the CNSRP partners continues, and although in the short term there will likely be delays in the implementation of some projects, it is expected that those underway will resume post Covid-19. It is likely that other priorities and types of support being offered will change in the short to medium term as Partner organisations’ missions are developed post Covid. In the interim, however here are a few updates relating to the CNSRP activities and other items relevant to the area, some of which cover the immediate responses to Covid-19.
Hot of the Press
As you may be aware the current situation changes all the time. This has just been announce by Highland Council.
As you may be aware, Space Hub Sutherland submitted their planning application along with the Environmental Impact Assessment Report and supporting documents to the Highland Council on 7th February 2020. Highland Council uploaded the documents on 11th February for consideration, welcoming comments of support or objections. Due to Covid-19 and the restrictions that have subsequently been imposed, progression of the Planning Application phase has been temporarily delayed. Hopefully some of the restrictions can be lifted soon and the project will proceed. If you would like to review the application and responses so far, they can be found here.
Connectivity – Road / Rail / Air / Sea
Transport Scotland have announced a £10 million fund to support a temporary pop-up active travel infrastructure programme in light of the Scottish Government guidance on social distancing. Cabinet Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson, announced that they will fully fund a new pop-up infrastructure package for safer walking and cycling routes or the temporary improvement to existing routes. Local authorities are to be provided with guidance and support on the transitory widening of pavements and cycle lanes during Covid-19.
Wick Airport Public Service Obligation. You may remember that Loganair withdrew the Edinburgh to Wick Service from Friday 27th March prior to the Covid-19 shutdown. Whilst most scheduled flights around the country are currently suspended, we are continuing our dialogue with Transport Scotland during this period with a view to trying to re-establish a full service from Wick as soon as possible after the lockdown is lifted. CNSRP Partners feel that having strong and stable air links into the area will be vital in helping the region to recover from the effects of Covid-19.
Sustainability – Business and Community Support
The Scottish Government have announced £100 million package of additional grant support for small and medium sized businesses and those people who are newly self-employed and have had their businesses impacted by Covid-19. Applications are now welcome, as of Thursday 30th April and it’s expected that that there will be a high level of interest. The package includes a £34 million hardship fund for the newly self-employed, a £20 million fund for small and micro enterprises in the creative, tourism and hospitality sectors and £45 million for viable SMEs crucial to the Scottish economy which are vulnerable. Pay outs from grants are expected to begin in early May.
As would be expected, CNSRP organisations are heavily involved in supporting local businesses and communities, with a few pertinent links below: –
The Highland Council is providing support for small businesses.
HIE is also providing advice and support for both business and community organisations.
Caithness Chamber of Commerce provide updated Covid-19 support.
Skills Development Scotland also provide a Coronavirus update.
Dounreay Nuclear Partners:- With Dounreay having reduced their operational site in line with government guidelines relating to Covid-19 and while still ensuring the safe and secure operation of the site, they have decided to concentrate non-essential resources towards offering support to local community needs. Working along with the Highland Council and the NHS, they are addressing priority issues raised and are currently dealing with these requests.
Food and Drink and Tourism Sectors
The service sector relating to hospitality, food and drink and tourism sector is being particularly hard hit by the current shut down and restrictions imposed and the effects can readily be seen by the complete cessation of tourist traffic in the north area. While this is wholly in line with government policy, the short and long term effects will be significant in a country where income from tourism represents approximately 5% of GDP and where employment in the sector represents over 7% of the national figure. The recent growth in Tourism locally due to the success of the NC500 means that this will hit our area particularly hard, but also offers hope that this iconic route and remote open spaces will be attractive to tourists post Covid.
A number of bodies and initiatives are working to help organisations in these sectors weather the current crisis and look towards supporting them in recovery post lockdown. A few are mentioned below: –
Highlands and Islands Enterprise, in collaboration with Scottish Enterprise and South of Scotland Enterprise, has just launched the Pivotal Enterprise Resilience Fund and the Creative, Tourism & Hospitality Enterprise Hardship Fund with the support of Visit Scotland and Creative Scotland. This is seen as invaluable support to vulnerable SME’s, who are vital to the local and national economy. Anticipating that there will be a high volume of interest in these funds, pay outs are expected to begin in early May.
Scotland Food and Drink are currently working, on behalf of their members, to seek support representing the tourism industry.
Scottish Tourism Alliance is currently the largest member organisation for tourism businesses in Scotland and is providing support, advice and lobbying for its members and the sector. This week saw the announcement of a “bounce back loan” launched by Chancellor Rishi Sunak. The loan is available to small businesses for up to £50, 000 (or 25% of turnover) and is backed by a government guarantee, with the government paying the interest for the first twelve months. The Chancellor has stated that there should be no complex eligibility criteria and that loans, for the most part, should arrive within 24 hours of approval.
Skills – Job Opportunities
Skill Development Scotland have recently updated their website “My World of Work” to include a new online learning portal. These free online courses are now available to access, and can used to enhance your employment skills while being furloughed and aid in the development of your existing career, or if necessary help widen the avenue of choices if you are having to seek new employment after lockdown ends.
Thurso Community Development Trust have been working hard and are happy to offer support to residents in Thurso, Halkirk and Caithness West areas during the Covid-19 crisis. This volunteer support service is a lifeline link for those in need of help or assistance; offering to pick up shopping and collect prescriptions can make life easier for those who are having to self-isolate. At a time when social distancing is a must and networking is prevalent for keeping in touch, there is also the offer of technological advice. Catering staff have volunteered and are busy providing hot meals daily. In these anxious times, it’s wonderful to see true community spirit return and if you aware of individuals who require assistance, please direct them to this link where they will be able to register.
Chris Aitken (Computing Science teacher at Wick High School) and the Caithness visor team have reached a new pinnacle after delivering their 1000th visor to frontline staff in the Highland area.
Highland Council – Garden waste collections will resume from Monday 11th May. Many of us will welcome this announcement as, after the glorious dry spells we have experienced and the light rain shower we have had, it’s evident that spring has sprung and there is grass to be cut. The latest Highland Council developments and changes to key sectors due to Coronavirus can be found here.
Scottish Government have announced that everyone providing a social care service will and should have access to PPE equipment, regardless if they are paid or unpaid or are personal assistants. Local hubs have been asked to distribute the equipment to the social care sector.
Scottish Government have also provided new guidance on the use of face coverings in public areas during the Coronavirus pandemic. These recommendations are not mandatory and will not be enforced by Police Scotland at this stage. The SG continues to promote physical distancing, hand washing and good respiratory hygiene as being the most effective way to help prevent the spread of Coronavirus.