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City oil firms “have keen interest” in setting up new bases in Caithness

Caithness Courier

Two Aberdeen oil companies are "seriously interested" in setting up bases in Caithness and could make a decision about the move in the first half of next year.

That was said yesterday by Eann Sinclair, the programme manager for the Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership (CNSRP), the body spearheading the drive to offset the jobs going as Dounreay runs down.

He feels "the message is getting through" that the far north is a good place to be with oil and gas developments west of Shetland and marine offshore and tidal energy developments earmarked for the area.

Mr Sinclair said businesses are realising Caithness has the engineering and employment skills, and great connections as well as competitive costs.

"We are talking to two companies who are seriously interested in coming here. They are finding it difficult to attract and retain a workforce in Aberdeen.

"Staff move from one company to another and wage levels and costs are spiralling there. We are not sure when a decision will be made but it could be in the first half of 2014," said Mr Sinclair, who could not divulge any further details at the moment.

"All we can do is make the place as attractive to these companies as we can. We have been promoting Caithness and outlining the advantages of having a base here and have been making inroads particularly in the last year.

"We have been stressing the fact that you can get from Dyce airport to Wick quicker than you can get from one side of Aberdeen to the other," stated Mr Sinclair.

He said the advantages of having a base in Caithness are also being stressed by Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing who was one of the guests at an event in Aberdeen which was organised by the Scottish Council for Development and Industry.

"There were about 70 business people there and they heard Mr Ewing talking about the benefits of doing business from Caithness.

"That is fantastic," said Mr Sinclair who pointed out that the Minister helped establish the oil and gas taskforce.

It aims to try and encourage companies to do business in the Highlands and Islands.

Mr Sinclair also pointed out that CNSRP representatives held a business breakfast event in Aberdeen last week. HIE's Roy Kirk and June Love, together with Stephen Sutherland (JGC Engineering Services and chairman of the Caithness Chamber of Commerce), Willie Watt (Subsea 7) and Debbie Gray (North Highland College), met a group of business leaders to promote the area.

Two oil-related companies have already established links with Caithness. Earlier this year, NorSea Group agreed to build its first Scottish supply base at Scrabster Harbour.

The agreement resulted in the Norwegian firm working with Scrabster Harbour Trust to bring in new business and make the port a one stop supply base servicing the oil and gas industry.

And Aberdeen-based oil and gas logistics company Asco took full control of Scrabster Port Services to develop a major hub for offshore exploration and production support west of Shetland. The company, which owned 50% of Scrabster, bought the rest of the business for an undisclosed sum.

Meanwhile, Mr Kirk, HIE's area manager for Caithness and Sutherland, said business confidence in the far north is growing as local firms rise to the challenge of diversifying as a result of the rundown at Dounreay. Three years ago one local business relied on the nuclear site for 90% of its work. That figure is now 30%.