Friday, 30 July 2010

Engineering firms can lead us out of recession

THE big push to build a durable economy for the Far North is under way. Calder Engineering Ltd, of Thurso, is to be congratulated on winning a new offshore contract.

It's a sign that engineering businesses can lead this area out of recession.

The firm has been supplying cabins to the offshore oil and gas industry and has recently won a contract to supply to the renewables industry.

With the help of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the company secured a deal to provide a suite of offshore cabins for the Sheringham Shoal wind-farm project, 10 miles off the Norfolk coastline.

Like many others, the company's work was based at Dounreay until the decommissioning programme got under way and work there began to dry up. However, keen to find new markets for its fabrication and engineering services, the company designed its range of approved offshore cabins.

The company has been working in the oil and gas supply chain for over 10 years and broke into this new market with specialist support through HIE's account management model.

With the appointment of Alex Paterson as HIE chief executive, who is due to start in August, the public will want to know that Caithness is getting the best out of the enterprise network.

The Scottish Parliament is on this tack too. The economy, energy and tourism committee, of which I am deputy convener, is set to probe HIE and Scottish Enterprise to see if their new structures are delivering more jobs and serving the Scottish Government's goals.

As readers of this column will know, I have explored on many occasions the role of HIE in its prime job to support a skilled workforce leaching from the Dounreay rundown and kick-start the marine renewables revolution.

So far it is too early to see if the HIE role has been as effective as we need.

Regenerating the Caithness economy will be led by what HIE dubs "account managed businesses".

We all agree what needs to be done, so local frustrations at a slow pace of change led me to bring economy and energy minister Jim Mather to meet a range of funders in a meeting earlier this month at Scrabster.


WITH the Scottish Parliament midway through recess and Westminster set for its very long break, we must not ignore the biggest breakthrough Scotland needs to prosper. I mean full financial powers. Some call it autonomy, others independence.

The SNP has repeated calls for Scotland to be given full financial responsibility as the Tories and Lib Dems continue to press ahead with the potentially damaging Calman proposals.

The Lib Dem Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Moore, and his party admitted last weekend that they want more than Calman while a UK Government tax official conceded on Monday the problems the Calman plans face if the UK changes tax rates or the tax base.

North MSP Rob Gibson (far right) along with (from left): Rod Johnson, Scrabster Harbour Trust; economy and energy minister Jim Mather; Willie Calder, SHT; and Jock Campbell, SHT, who met earlier this month at Scrabster harbour.

It has been clear from day one that the Calman proposals were a political fudge not a serious policy proposal for economic growth.

Even Calman's expert economists do not think these plans would deliver growth in the Scottish economy. Meanwhile a growing body of economists, civic society and business leaders all recognise that it is only full financial powers that will give the Scottish Parliament the ability to really support growth and to tailor the Scottish economy to the needs of the Scottish people.

With Scotland facing up to Tory/Lib Dem cuts as a result of Labour Government actions, the logic behind Scotland controlling her own economy is crystal clear.

If the Lib Dems are serious about showing Scotland respect then they must seriously take forward the calls for full financial responsibility and ensure those are part of the discussions with the treasury.

For the secretary of state to put in place financial proposals he and his party do not believe in and that we know risk serious damage to the Scottish economy would be entirely wrong.

Instead of chairing a group that will try to make the best of Calman's bad job (something John Whiting, of the new Office of Tax Simplification freely admits) the treasury and secretary of state would be better to sit down with the Scottish Government and work on delivering real financial responsibility to the Scottish Parliament to support Scotland's economy and Scotland's public services.

Where do our Lib Dem MP and MSP stand on this key issue for our future?


EARLIER this week the Scottish Government took the cabinet to Dornoch as part of its summer tour.

Started in 2008, the tour gives people a chance to engage with the country's decision-makers.

However, some are opposed to taking government to the people. Condemnation has come from Liberal Democrats and Conservatives. Incidentally, the press release from Tory deputy leader Murdo Fraser attacking the tour said that Dornoch was in Caithness. Liberals and Conservatives say tours of this nature are a waste of money.

However David Cameron and Nick Clegg disagree, as they have announced a not-so UK-wide cabinet tour this year which will take place in towns around England.

Given the fact that one meeting of the UK cabinet tour will cost more than the entire Scottish tour then you might expect the Lib Dems and Tories to really chastise their Westminster amigos. Yet they do not.

I wonder what the Liberal Democrats and Tories have got against Dornoch or the cabinet meeting outside the central belt?

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