26th October 2023

View from the Board. Stephen Sutherland, Chairman of Caithness Chamber of Commerce & Director JGC Engineering and Technical Services.

  • Chairman of Caithness Chamber of Commerce & Director JGC Engineering and Technical Services
    Stephen Sutherland, Chairman of Caithness Chamber of Commerce & Director JGC Engineering and Technical Services.

Connectivity is vital for north Highlands to prosper.

At the beginning of this month, we held our Annual General Meeting reflecting on the activity of the Chamber during the past year.  For the first time we were in the Royal Thurso Hotel and several of our members, myself included, reminisced on many happy times there in days gone by, and we were delighted to be back.  There was a warm welcome from the General Manager and staff, and it was refreshing to hear of forthcoming plans and upgrades to the hotel.

As we settle into Autumn, with its stretched shadows and crisp embrace, the year too reaches its final stretch. The changing seasons mirror our own need to evaluate and adapt, and at our AGM we reflected earnestly on the extremely challenging and increasingly harsh business environment.

Despite the challenging political landscape, we have never shied away from raising the issues that matter most to our business community to decision-makers in Holyrood and Westminster either directly or working with our Scottish Chambers of Commerce colleagues. We challenged government over ill-thought-out and burdensome regulations such as the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) and alcohol advertising restrictions; and we have continued to champion the Wick/Aberdeen PSO, for which we fought so hard.

At our Annual Dinner in September, a keynote address given by Dr Liz Cameron CBE, Chief Executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, again praised the creativity and resilience of the North Highland businesses community. The speech echoed concerns felt across our region, with threats to connectivity and failures to harness the vast economic potential voiced loudly.

Looking ahead, our membership remains our priority and as a Chamber community, we will continue our commitment to face rising challenges head-on, advocating for the North Highland business community.

We are continually grateful for the support of our membership as we close off another Annual Review and you can rest assured, we will not rest on our laurels, despite the challenges we all face.

We are a resilient business community and as our strapline says we are stronger together.

Trudy Morris, Chief Executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce.

Working together gives voice to our region.

Reflecting on the past 12 months, it is clear we have experienced an extremely challenging and increasingly harsh business environment. The damaging legacy of the pandemic, coupled with the cost-of-living crisis, spiralling interest rates, material, labour and energy costs, alongside the increased cost of debt, mean many businesses are fighting to stand still amid significant and ongoing economic uncertainty.

Resilience is again the reigning theme when we look at how our members have dealt with the multitude of challenges we have encountered in this past year, a testament indeed to the extraordinary dedication, ingenuity, and resourcefulness of our business community. We have learnt that we are stronger when we work together and that’s particularly important for a business membership and economic landscape as diverse as our own.

Centred at the heart of the North Highland business community, Caithness Chamber of Commerce is here to support businesses at all stages of their journey.

It had been a busy year during 2022/23 for the Caithness Chamber, we were delighted that our membership continued to grow, and we now represent and support over 226 businesses across all sizes and sectors.

In August 2022 we were delighted to welcome two new Diamond Premier Partners, West of Orkney Windfarm and Pentland Floating Offshore Wind Farm. We have been working closely with each over this past year to forge early supply chain engagement to help maximise opportunities locally and prepare for these transformational projects which will inform investment in our future skills, economy and infrastructure.

We added to our exemplary fund management portfolio with the appointment of the Chamber as Fund Administrator for the Caithness and North Sutherland Fund (CNSF).  Contracts like this help to sustain the Chamber and allow us to deliver more for the business community.

Entrepreneurship and business support were also at the forefront of our activities. I was delighted to support Thurso High School Young Enterprise Team “Social-Eyes” whose creativity and innovation secured them a spot in the UK Finals with their scavenger hunt bingo game.

We also continued to deliver a diverse portfolio of support to businesses through our business support and mentoring programme funded by Dounreay, advising on topics such as funding applications, marketing and tendering.  It was encouraging and positive to see businesses invest in apprenticeships during the year with the support of the Caithness Business Fund.  A significant commitment to invest in the future and the next generation.  As we moved into a new financial year in June, we have seen this trend continue.

Lobbying and campaigning remain a key aspect of the Chamber, being the ‘Voice’ of business in the reported year was no different.

Connectivity is a major factor in securing economic growth, attracting new opportunities, and employment and sustaining flourishing communities for our region and future generations.

With no proposed major investments in our roads or rail infrastructure on the horizon which offer meaningful reduction in journey times in the short to medium term, or alternative solutions which connect our region physically to markets and opportunities, our airport is an essential component to keeping us connected. With funding from government for the PSO from Wick at serious risk, we find ourselves again lobbying and campaigning to secure a vital piece of infrastructure.

However, despite the challenges, it has been a rewarding year. It has been a great privilege to work alongside our members to ensure the voice of the North Highland business community is heard and I look forward to continuing to work on behalf of our members.

Read the Caithness Chamber Annual Review 2022 / 23

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E: info@caithnesschamber.com
T: 01847 890076