SIR Anthony Cleaver believes Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership has made “a real contribution” over the past decade in helping replace the jobs being lost as the Dounreay nuclear site is decommissioned. Around 1000 jobs have been created in the far north in that time, he points out.
While he says he is sad to be leaving his role as chairman of the partnership, he feels the time is right for a change. He will be succeeded by Ian Ross, the former East Sutherland and Edderton Highland councillor.
Sir Anthony’s decision to step down ends a long association with the area which started in 1993 when he was appointed as chairman of the then UK Atomic Energy Authority. He later chaired AEA Technology and in 2004 took on the role of leading the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) which was responsible for decommissioning Dounreay.
In 2008, the then local MP John Thurso asked Sir Anthony to chair Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership. He took on the role and says it has been “an honour and a privilege” to do it.
“I have enjoyed all my time here in my various jobs,” he said. “I do think the partnership has made a major contribution.
“Ten years ago the mood was pretty depressed. People were very gloomy. I would say the mood now has changed and is pretty optimistic, although there are challenges. That will always be the case.
“The big advantage we have here is that it will be a number of years before Dounreay is closed so we had an opportunity to plan for the future. If it had been a car plant it would have been closed in three months.”
Sir Anthony highlights positive developments such as the improvements at Scrabster and Wick harbours as well as the pioneering MeyGen tidal energy project and the Beatrice offshore wind farm.
The North Coast 500 is also making an impact and bringing economic opportunities to the area. The Nucleus archive across from Wick John O’Groats Airport is another plus for Caithness, he adds. Sir Anthony played a part in bringing the facility to the county during his time as chairman of the NDA.
Engineering and environmental courses at North Highland College UHI can also help regenerate the Caithness economy. “There are real opportunities here,” he declared.
Improving infrastructure and transport links in the far north are key to helping the area’s economy. Good schools and hospitals are another factor.
“I think the partnership has made a real contribution in the last 10 years,” Sir Anthony said. “We have worked with other agencies to help create around 1000 jobs over that time but we all had to work together to do it. I am very pleased to see progress being made.”
Sir Anthony feels it is important to make Caithness as “attractive as possible” for people to come and work in the area.
“There are still issues to be addressed but, overall, I think significant progress has been made. We played a part but it has always been a contributory role. The partnership is an enabler. The Scottish government has said this area could be an example for other places to follow.”
Sir Anthony says there is an expertise at Dounreay which “a lot of places would give their eye teeth to have” and it could be used to help the local economy.
Caithness strengths are its people, their skills and the natural beauty of the place, but access to the area needs to be improved.
Asked about any disappointments during his time as chairman of the partnership, he replied: “I hoped MeyGen would have got the Contract for Difference – it covers an agreement on the price for the electricity generated – from the UK government, but they did not. That was disappointing. They will now have to find another way forward but are looking at opportunities.”
Sir Anthony decided to retire as he felt 10 years as chairman was long enough. “I wanted to leave before people wanted me to,” he said. “It was time for a change.
“I am delighted with the choice of Ian Ross as my successor. I have had discussions with him and would be willing to help him in any way I can.”
Sir Anthony, who is 80, will keep a watchful eye on what is happening in Caithness and plans to stay active with his many other interests and hobbies. He enjoys opera, and swims five times a week.
He started his career as a systems engineer with IBM in 1962 and went on to become its chief executive and chairman.
Sir Anthony and his wife Jennie live in London and have a son, Paul, and a daughter, Caroline.