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Caithness Partners Agree Structure For Regeneration

22nd January 2007

A taskforce drawing on the area's three key public agencies will be charged with delivering an action plan for the regeneration of the Caithness and North Sutherland economy.

The Far North has specific economic hurdles ahead with the prospect of decommissioning work at Dounreay's nuclear reactor coming to an end in the early 2030s with the eventual loss of around 2,500 jobs.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), Highland Council and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), together with the Scottish Executive and MP John Thurso, have now agreed on a partnership structure to implement a plan to tackle the social and economic effects that the closure will bring.

Commending the partnership proposal Deputy First Minister Nicol Stephen said: "The Far North has significant challenges ahead but also holds great potential which requires a broad range of expertise to fully develop. I am confident that the combined experience within this three-way partnership will provide bold and strategic leadership taking the region's economy safely through and beyond the decommissioning of Dounreay."

The structured taskforce will work on transformational projects identified in a plan under preparation by economic consultants. They include energy related development, diversification into oil and gas decommissioning, food, drink and tourism.

Communications issues such as improved transport links and high quality telecommunication networks for the area, will also command high priority for the specialised team.

The taskforce will comprise three specific working parties: a stakeholders group, executive group and a senior officers group

HIE chief executive Sandy Cumming explained: "With our partners we have identified this delivery structure to include the widest interests, keep bureaucracy to a minimum and provide the imaginative leadership needed to see the region's economy forge ahead with a new focus in the decades to come."

The partners also plan to recruit an experienced executive who would be offered an incentivised reward package to attract public and private sector inward investment into Caithness. In addition a programme co-ordinator will be appointed to ensure that the three-part team is fully aware of opportunities to share resources, support new initiatives and prevent any gaps or overlaps. This critical role will draw together the groups' efforts, and monitor, review and revise progress.

John Thurso MP endorsed the proposal saying: "I welcome this important announcement which contains three important points. First it embraces the concept of partnership between the key agencies and sets out the principles as to how this will work. Second it recognises the need for a dedicated coordinator reporting to the partnership. Third it recognises the need to recruit specific skills to boost inward investment."

"I believe this wholly satisfies the aspirations of the strategy group and demonstrates the determination of the key partners to work together and to succeed in meeting this challenge. I commend HIE on their initiative."

Arthur McCourt, chief executive of Highland Council supported the MP's view. He said: "Securing the future of the Caithness and North Sutherland economy represents one of the biggest challenges facing the Highlands. The Highland Council is committed to working closely with HIE, the NDA, the Scottish Executive and the local community to take forward the strategy of the local study group and the regeneration of the economy of the north Highlands."

Director for the NDA in Scotland John Farquhar said the news was well timed: "The funding issues experienced by the NDA over the last few weeks and the potential impact on the Dounreay site have highlighted once again how sensitive the Caithness economy is to the programme of works at the site.

"There is now a renewed sense of urgency and the NDA looks forward to collaborating with its partners, and the wider community, to tackle the problem with energy and innovation."


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