Caithness Economy

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:34 pm on 25th October 2006.

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Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour 5:34 pm, 25th October 2006

I met representatives of the NDA in connection with my previous responsibilities under the environment and rural development portfolio, within which sponsorship of the issue arose. I shall go on in my conclusion to address the issue that Mr Mather raises.

There is no doubt that the Dounreay decommissioning process will provide major and diverse opportunities for innovation and employment. The objective to which I have referred is to provide a basis for sustainable growth, which will help to deliver the vision of a post-Dounreay economy that includes good-quality employment, a stable population and good public services—three aims to which all members can subscribe. That objective will include improving productivity and competitiveness through innovation and effective development and deployment of skills.

To attract new industries and jobs to Caithness, the workforce requires the necessary skills to enter new industries. The UHI Millennium Institute and its academic partner North Highland College, to which Jamie Stone and others referred, are at the forefront of delivering the training opportunities that will provide people with the skills that they need to realise their full potential and to play their part in Caithness and Sutherland's future.

Jamie Stone invited me to Caithness which, as he knows, I have visited three times in the past 18 months or thereabouts. I am always glad to go there. The last time I was there, I was—happily—a spectator of, rather than a participant in, a game of knotty, which I think could be called a local sport. If it would help, I am happy to assist.

I have always said—and I agree with it—that our vision for Dounreay should be that of a world-renowned nuclear centre of excellence. Unlike some members, I do not one believe that the nuclear industry's future lies behind it. As members are aware, I am a well-known exponent of the industry and of the vital role that I think it will continue to play, not least in combating climate change, which has been mentioned over the piece.

Our main challenge is to ensure that we have in place a focused, effective and robust socioeconomic plan for Caithness. That will involve the centre of excellence. The NDA adopts a hub-and-spoke model for higher education: the hub is in north-west England and the Scottish spoke is in Thurso.

Maureen Macmillan talked about renewable energy. The NDA hosted a recent meeting on tidal power and we have planned a meeting with the NDA soon to consider how to bring the two sides together.

Everybody must work together. If having an Executive representative directly involved would help, I would fully support that, and I stand ready to help. HIE has committed resources, as Jamie Stone and others said. Other parties also stand ready to make such a contribution. I assure members that I stand ready to do anything I can to assist in achieving the objective.