The economy of Caithness and North Sutherland is well-placed to benefit from new opportunities, as it decreases its dependence on work at Dounreay.
In an address to Caithness business leaders, Enterprise Minister Fergus Ewing praised the work of the Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership for making a significant contribution to securing new opportunities, investment and jobs to the area.
Mr Ewing was in Caithness at the invitation of both the Dounreay Stakeholder Group and Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership (CNSRP) Chairman Sir Anthony Cleaver. During his time in the area he also visited a Workforce Transition workshop taking place as part of the major "Make The Right Connections" skills transition programme being led by Caithness Chamber of Commerce; met with representatives of Meygen, the tidal energy company; and visited John O' Groats to see progress with the multi-million pound tourism development being led by Natural Retreats and Heritage GB.
Mr Ewing welcomed the clear focus in CNSRP's 2011-14 Action Plan on a range of job targets, especially in the business and energy sectors.
Between 2007 and 2010 over 80 local businesses committed to creating or retaining more than 500 jobs in the area. The Partnership's 2011-14 Plan aims to support a further 200-410 jobs.
Mr. Ewing said: "The Scottish Government and Highlands and Islands Enterprise are working hard to retain Scotland's position as the most competitive environment for business in the UK.
"The Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership is making a significant contribution to this ongoing work to secure new opportunities, investment and jobs to the north of Scotland.
"The Partnership has developed strong connections with the private sector which is securing and creating local job opportunities in the business services and energy sectors. As I have seen today, the Partnership is helping the local economy move away from its current dependence on Dounreay through the skills transition programme.
"The 2011-2014 Action Plan is already making a positive contribution to the sustainable economic growth of the area and I welcome these ambitious new targets that aim to support up to 410 jobs."
The Partnership, which includes Highland Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Skills development Scotland, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and the Scottish Government, was formed to help address the effects of Dounreay decommissioning on the area's economy. It brings a collaborative approach to identifying and pursuing actions to diversify the area's business base away from its dependence on Dounreay-related work.
Sir Anthony Cleaver, Executive Board independent Chairman said: "I am delighted that Mr Ewing has been able to see examples of the excellent work that is happening in the north. We have continued to make good progress during 2011/14, both in terms of supporting some 115 jobs and also in progressing key enabling projects such as the new Engineering, Technology and Energy Centre in Thurso and the ongoing redevelopment of Scrabster harbour. With good progress being made in the procurement by HIE of a contract to deliver Next Generation Broadband I am confident that we have the right resources in place within our partner bodies to continue to deliver positive results."
Bob Earnshaw, Chairman of the Dounreay Stakeholder Group, said: "It is vitally important that we continue to raise awareness of the challenges and opportunities we have in the north, so we were delighted that the Minister accepted the invitation to come to the area. I hope we were able to show him that we are all working together on this major programme of activities."
The priorities for the Caithness & North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership between 2011-14 are:
• Work with existing area businesses in the energy and business services sectors to help them diversify and grow their businesses.
• Deliver a targeted programme of inward investment activity focused on energy-related opportunities such as marine renewable energy, oil & gas
• Deliver a targeted programme of inward investment activity focused on business services-related opportunities such as data centres, contact centres and higher-skill back office functions.
• Support the delivery of key enabling infrastructure such as ports and harbours, road, rail and air transport, skills transition and digital connectivity.