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Weekly Update, 31st May

The Partnership Advisory Board’s quarterly meeting took place this week. This is the body that brings together representatives from HIE, The Highland Council, the NDA, DSRL, Thurso & Wick Trades Council, Caithness Chamber of Commerce, the Dounreay Stakeholders’ Group, the Association of Caithness Community Councils, the Federation of North Coast Community Councils, North Highland College, Scottish Natural Heritage as well as John Thurso MP and Jamie Stone MSP. The Board is chaired by Cllr Sandy Park, the Convener of the Highland Council. This meeting heard two presentations outlining different aspects of activities helping to diversify the area economy.

Firstly Richard Stoneham and Yvonne McCarthy from the Pensions Administration Office (PAO) in Thurso gave a very positive update on the prospects for this business unit, which employs some 36 people insuring over 71,000 lives throughout the UK nuclear industry. Their view of the unit’s growth potential was welcomed as a good example of the type of high-value employment we seek to attract to this area, and retain/ grow here where we already possess it.

The second presentation was from Audrey Maciver (Head of HIE’s Energy Team) and Calum Davidson (HIE’s Head of key Sectors) updating on progress with the development of wave and tidal energy in the Pentland Firth area. The update gave a very clear picture of the activities going on both in the public sector and within the industry to make progress. There has been real frustration locally at what has been perceived as lack of progress, but one of the key points was the value of being able to work closely with the Pentland Firth Delivery Body as it tries to deliver economic benefit for the area. Each meeting of the Advisory Board will now have an update from a member of this important Delivery Body.

The Partnership’s Executive Board also met this week. They discussed the latest draft of the regeneration programme, and discussed resource issues in delivering its aspirations. It was agreed that the work done to develop a vision for Caithness & north Sutherland had been important, and that the programme flowed from the themes highlighted in the vision. It was agreed that senior staff from the partner bodies will come together later this month to agree the detail of the programme and its delivery. The Board also met with the new Chairman of Highlands & Islands Airports Ltd to discuss ongoing issues and opportunities at Wick Airport.

I have also had separate meetings this week with area colleagues from both the Highland Council and HIE to move forward on detailed delivery aspects of the programme.