Trudy Morris: North Highlands well placed to bring energy to domestic market
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Chamber Comment by Trudy Morris
Spring is upon us already, as always bringing with it a feeling of renewal and hope. The worst impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic seem to be behind us and it is clear that the vaccine rollout has allowed us to return to something almost approaching normality.
However, along with that hope, the first few months of 2022 have brought significant uncertainty and disruption for businesses in the north Highlands.
It would be impossible, of course, not to mention the horrific and tragic events playing out in Ukraine. I know that businesses and communities across the north Highlands have demonstrated an incredible outpouring of generosity and we will continue to do whatever we can to support those affected and displaced by war.
The events in Ukraine have, of course, had major impacts across the whole world which have the potential to bring significant disruption and hardship. The most immediately visible of these is the very significant rise in energy costs predicted over the course of 2022.
Unfortunately the Chancellor’s recent Spring Statement gave little confidence to businesses that the UK government understands the enormous pressures facing them. While many of the announcements made will be beneficial in the longer term, there was little in the statement to give comfort to businesses facing astronomical cost increases.
It has been clear for many years that the north Highlands has a huge potential to play in development of renewable energy. What has now been thrown into stark relief is the need to re-evaluate our national policies and the economic case for reducing our reliance on imported energy.
A major step towards that was reached recently with the announcement of the results of the first ScotWind leasing round. This will see almost 25GW of offshore wind capacity installed off Scotland’s coast, much of it in close proximity to the north Highlands.
As a region, we are well-placed to support these developments, with harbours situated to offer a home base to operations and maintenance vessels, and a highly-skilled supply chain with decades of experience in energy sectors. We already have a proven track record in the sector, thanks to the efforts of Wick Harbour and partners to support operations at the Beatrice offshore wind farm.
Ours is also a region which is ready and willing to welcome new investment. The recent announcement of the return of flights from Wick to Aberdeen is a clear message that the north Highlands is open for business. Securing these flights was a strong example of the partnership working between private sector and public agencies that is a feature of the north Highlands, and partners are committed to continuing to support and develop the new service for years to come.
The Caithness Chamber, meanwhile, has worked hard alongside our members to put together a directory demonstrating the skills available within the local supply chain and the “can-do” attitude that companies in the area have to offer. Our Invest Caithness site also offers a huge array of information on everything of interest to those looking to invest in the region.
To support investment in the long-term future of the region, however, it is clear that businesses need help now to survive the immediate challenges they face.
The Scottish Government has made clear that it does not feel the Chancellor’s announcements go far enough, and we will be working closely with colleagues across the Scottish Chambers network to lobby both Westminster and Holyrood for the support that businesses so desperately need.
Despite the challenges ahead, it is hard not to feel hopeful when looking ahead not just at ScotWind but at the other opportunities on the horizon for the north Highlands.
Whatever the future holds, the region is open for business and the Chamber will be here to ensure that those looking to invest have access to the support and the information they need.
- Trudy Morris is chief executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce.