Here is a DASA reminder of the Themed Competitions offered by the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA). If you have an innovation, we want to hear from you!

 

Electronic Warfare Challenge

Electronic Warfare Challenge is the first iteration of AUKUS Pillar 2’s Innovation Challenge Series which will run concurrently in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The UK competition run by DASA is open to registered UK businesses only.

Up to £1.92 million funding available to develop capabilities that provide a competitive advantage to electromagnetic targeting and protection.

The deadline to submit a proposal is midday (GMT) on Thursday 16 May 2024.

Learn more and submit a proposal

 

 

Mobile Evidential Drug Testing Instrument (MEDTI) Demonstrator

Mobile Evidential Drug Testing Instrument Demonstrator is being run on behalf of the Department for Transport and with the support of the Home Office  and Police. This competition is seeking proposals that enhance the testing of suspected ‘drug’ drivers.

The total possible funding available for Phase 1 of this themed competition is £1 million (ex-VAT) with a maximum limit of £350,000 (ex-VAT) per proposal

The deadline to submit a proposal is midday (GMT) on Tuesday 16 April 2024.

Learn more and submit a proposal

 

 

Small, Lightweight Trace Explosives Detector

Sample Preservation, Analysis, And Attribution (SPAA) is being run on behalf of the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the US Department of Defense (DOD)  and seeks proposals for innovations that could either help the successful identification of chemical and biological (ChemBio) materials and/or bring perpetrators to justice.

Up to £1 million (excluding VAT) funding available.

The deadline to submit a proposal is midday (BST) on Saturday  30 March 2024

Learn more and submit a proposal

The Caithness Collection is thrilled to announce the grand opening of Wick Bay Apartments, the newest addition to their collection. Nestled along Wick Bay, these modern retreats offer unparalleled comfort and stunning views.

Discover the epitome of contemporary living in their one-bedroom apartments, complete with a cozy double bedroom, lounge, and fully equipped kitchenette. Enjoy meals in the dining area, perfect for gatherings with loved ones. For those seeking sophistication, their studio ensuite apartments feature a luxurious king-size bed, inviting seating areas, and a convenient kitchenette equipped with essential appliances.

For more information, contact Wick Bay Apartments at: wickbay@thecaithnesscollection.co.uk or call 01955 603344.

This month, we’re thrilled to welcome our new Business Member J Murphy & Son Ltd.

We look forward to working with them!

To discuss membership, please reach out to our Business Development manager, Fiona Levack. You can contact Fiona by email: fiona@caithnesschamber.com. You can read about membership on the website using this link.

If you’re already a member but would like a reminder of how to get the most from your membership, Fiona will gladly go over that with you too.

Applications have opened for the fourth year of the Marine Fund Scotland.

Addressing the Fisheries Management Scotland conference, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands Mairi Gougeon confirmed that £14m will be made available through the Fund in 2024-25 to help deliver Scotland’s Blue Economy Vision, which sets out plans to transform the way the marine environment is used and how Scotland’s ‘blue’ resources are managed.

The funding is available to a wide range of eligible individuals, businesses, organisations and communities to deliver projects that contribute to an innovative and sustainable marine economy, support coastal communities, and contribute to Scotland’s net zero ambitions.

Last year, a total of 91 projects were awarded funding, with grants ranging from under £1,000 up to £1.6 million. These projects included the modernising of seafood processing facilities to reduce energy consumption and improve efficiency; harbour improvements such as community clean ups and marine litter prevention; improvements to safety training and on-board safety for sea fishers; and marine research and innovation to protect our iconic wild salmon.

Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands Mairi Gougeon said:

“The Marine Fund Scotland supports a wide range of exciting and innovative projects delivering on our Blue Economy Vision. Congratulations to those organisations and individuals who have already made successful applications – it’s fantastic to see that Scottish Government funding is playing an important role in helping our marine industries to evolve and flourish. I am looking forward to seeing the types of projects that apply for funding in this fourth year of the Fund.

“However, while the Fund is critical in delivering on one of our three core Government missions – opportunity: building a fair, green and growing economy – we no longer have sufficient funding to support longer term investment.

“Marine funding in Scotland continues to be short-changed by the UK Government so, as well as ensuring the full allocation for the Marine Fund Scotland is maintained in future years, we will keep pressing the UK Government to uphold their commitment to replace lost EU funding in full, so that we can continue supporting innovative projects in our marine sectors and coastal communities in the future.”

Fisheries Management Scotland received funding from the Marine Fund Scotland in 2023-24 of £750,000 to deliver four projects to support the protection of declining wild salmon population. This includes the management of invasive non-native pink salmon in Scotland as well as the purchase of equipment to support monitoring.

Dr Alan Wells, CEO of Fisheries Management Scotland, said:

“Fisheries Management Scotland is extremely grateful for this important support from Marine Fund Scotland, which recognises that Scotland’s wild Atlantic salmon are a conservation priority. Our members are working tirelessly to protect, conserve and restore Scotland’s wild salmon populations and this vital funding will support these crucial efforts.”

Background & Further Information

Blue Economy Vision

The Marine Fund Scotland 2024-25 guidance notes and Funding portal 

Details of all projects that have received grant funding from the Marine Fund Scotland to date can be found here: https://www.gov.scot/policies/marine-and-fisheries-grants/grants-awarded/

 

Following the success of its Business Digital Grant scheme launched last year, The Highland Council is delighted to announce further funding to help Highland companies access digital support alongside other business growth support.

Chair of the Council’s Economy and Infrastructure Committee, Cllr Ken Gowans said: “We have had a great response with our UKSPF supported Digital Grants programme so I’m delighted that we have reallocated some of the UKSPF grant to bolster our Business Growth grant programme and continue our Start-up grant scheme.”

In 2023 the Business Digital Grant from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund helped 160 local businesses with financial support totalling £570,000.

Cllr Gowans added: “This investment helped businesses with their digital transformation, allowing them to better adapt to the demands of a rapidly evolving digital landscape and enhancing their competitiveness, improve customer experience, and upskilling employees providing growth opportunities.”

One of the businesses to benefit was the Inverness Coffee Roasting Co. Manager Kevin Donnachie said: “We used the grant to invest in new hardware which will improve efficiency and accuracy in despatching coffee ordered from our new Shopify website. It also allows the progression and development of other areas of the business and has opened the space for a new job opportunity. The application process was simple, efficient and quick. It was also important to us that we purchased the hardware from a local supplier keeping the expenditure in the Highlands.”

This support to help with digital transformation will now be included within the Council’s successful Growth Business Grant. Growth grants are valuable to help businesses accelerate their growth plans, unlock new opportunities, achieve sustainable growth, drive innovation, and contribute to economic prosperity in the Highlands.

Over 250 businesses have accessed the start-up and growth grant funding totalling half a million pounds from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. This financial boost has allowed them to innovate, increase productivity, create jobs, and stimulate economic growth in their communities.

Cllr Gowans is encouraging businesses not to miss out on this opportunity of support. He said: “We expect the demand for grant support to remain high, so I recommend businesses to contact our Business Gateway Highland team who provide specialist start-up and growth advisory support and full details on grant and loan support.

Find out if your business is eligible here

Trudy Morris, Chief Executive, Caithness Chamber of Commerce:

Earlier this month, over 160 people gathered to hear about the growing opportunities across the North Highland region. The room at the Focus North Conference was buzzing with energy, and it wasn’t just the vibrant orange backdrop pointing to a bright future for the region!

With a dynamic lineup of speakers, conversations spanned renewable energy, nuclear decommissioning, peatland restoration and space, but the message was clear – collaboration is the magic ingredient when it comes to securing a prosperous future for the North Highland Region and for our future generations.

Collaboration isn’t just a buzzword, businesses and communities thrive when individuals with diverse skills, perspectives and experience collaborate towards a common goal. A driving force behind the Focus North programme, collaborative partnership working has paved the way for initiatives which will prepare the region for the opportunities ahead. Such as the launch of the Caithness Business Fund’s Future Skills Initiative, which with initial funding of £100,000 via the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and NRS Dounreay, will support businesses to establish new apprenticeships, fostering locally grown talent and building resilience in our local economy.

Collaboration is often the by-product of successful networking and it’s not just about exchanging business cards. It’s about building meaningful relationships and fostering a community. Networking expands your business ecosystem, provides new opportunities, and opens doors to new possibilities and insights.

Of course, networking can be intimidating for even the most experienced business professionals. But nothing compares to being in the room when it comes to making genuine connections.

Our first networking event of the year held at the Royal Thurso Hotel was a resounding success. We were thrilled to see such a diverse range of local businesses in attendance. The North Highlands are a close-knit community, but it is essential to remember that you don’t always know everyone or everything that is happening locally. Speaking to members and local business owners opens our eyes to the breadth of their businesses and the wide array of their skills and services.

At the Caithness Chamber, we stand by our motto, “Stronger Together.” We believe that nurturing networking opportunities is one of the avenues for our members to build their businesses. Helping facilitate collaboration is just one of the ways we shine as a Chamber.

The Focus North Conference called for “collective local action” so let’s get out there and really communicate with each other. A perfect business collaboration might not result from each interaction, but we will certainly be more knowledgeable and more connected – who knows, you might even enjoy it!

View our full events programme on Eventbrite, to join us at our next Chamber Event register online or contact Fiona Levack Fiona@caithnesschamber.com

Sacha Woolham, Director, The Strategy Collective, ‘Building Connections, Networking, and Collaboration.’

I often say to people that in business it’s a case of ‘Collaborate or Die’, this feels quite emotive but throughout my corporate career as well as working with smaller businesses, the most innovative, profitable and happiest teams, follow this model. As the world shifts and changes, collaboration more than ever is central to a healthy business.

That means that the know-how on many elements of what we do sits outside our own business. Rather than just accepting this, collaboration with our suppliers or partners, the experts in these elements, can really help change our business.

A quick example. Many people ask me about why their marketing isn’t working. They hesitate as I don’t understand their business like they do – I can’t, and never will as I don’t sit with them day in and day out – and that’s not my job. My job is to understand their customers, talk to them, find out what they need and want and where the gaps are. Then we work to put a plan together, pulling a set of approaches that resonates and reaches their audiences. Two heads (often more) are better than one.

You see we are tapping into other people’s perspectives, their knowledge and expertise with a joint goal. But for this to work, you have to go with an open mind, a willingness to share and trust. Not only does it make you more productive, as you are suddenly gaining more from suppliers and partners, but it also tends to make people happier. Suddenly their engagement in your business is increased. Oh, and if your supplier suddenly hears of a new piece of work, then we can guess who they think of first.

This doesn’t happen overnight. We are learning from each other, collaborating, and finding the right words and places to jointly find their customers. This isn’t necessarily a quick process but it’s always fruitful. I always think of the African proverb – ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’

The other question I get a lot from businesses is how do I get more sales? Often my first port of call isn’t just about online options – so not just social media or websites but asking about face-to-face interactions. Why? People buy from people. I know that if I get potential leads to talk to my customers, particularly in business-to-business scenarios, they pretty much slam-dunk it and will make that sale. Their new customer can see the passion, the expertise and build trust first-hand. No website can convert a sale quite like a real human.

Building trust and relationships is really central to making a business profitable. People will spend more as well as keep coming back. Even in a digital age, nothing comes close to meeting our customers in person.

I was once told that ‘network’ was ‘net – wealth’. People who are closest to your business often will buy or recommend you. New customers can be closer than you think. And remember, all your employees have a network too, so your circle suddenly becomes much larger.

www.thestrategycollective.co.uk/

  • Venture North Tourism Gathering 2024
    Venture North Tourism Gathering 2024

Future opportunities for tourism businesses and organisations were explored at Venture North’s third annual Tourism Gathering last week. 70 attendees gathered at Mackays Hotel in Wick ahead of the summer visitor season.

Cathy Earnshaw, Destination Strategy Manager for Venture North opened the day by showcasing an overview and short film of Venture North’s key strategic activities in delivering the Tourism Strategy for Caithness and Sutherland 2021 – 24. With the Gathering’s theme being ‘Destination Opportunities’, she also discussed potential future focus areas to generate ideas and feedback from the tourism sector and community organisations, which will help shape the region’s tourism priorities towards Outlook 2030.

Marc Crothall MBE, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance set the scene by introducing key tourism policy focuses including the recently launched Policy Agenda ‘Our Industry Manifesto to Support Scotland in Becoming a World Leader in 21st Century Tourism’ which sets out a series of ambitious priorities ahead of the forthcoming UK general election and the next Scottish Parliament election in 2026. He discussed the value of working with destination management organisations (DMOs) such as Venture North to shape and deliver tourism in Scotland.

Chris Taylor, VisitScotland’s destination development director for the Highlands and Islands revealed information on current visitor trends and opportunities for travel trade.

Representatives from Wick Development Trust, John O’Groats Mill Trust and the John O’Groats Development Trust all provided updates on current community tourism initiatives in Caithness, with NatureScot and the North West Highland Geopark presenting insight into the valuable opportunities for responsible tourism and collaborations with UNESCO status.

Trudy Morris, Chief Executive of the Caithness Chamber of Commerce also shared about career opportunities across the tourism and hospitality sector for young people.

William and Adelaine Munro of Caithness Seacoast Ltd commented: There was a very positive atmosphere. It was great to see such a diverse range of tourism service providers and an abundance of experience. We particularly liked hearing about the focus on young people joining the tourism industry. As a result, we approached Developing the Young Workforce North Highland and have signed up to provide marine tourism experience to interested high school pupils”.

Attendees rotated round breakout groups in the afternoon, which dug deeper into the themes of travel trade, building responsible tourism collaborations with UNESCO world heritage sites, and maximising opportunities for community tourism.

Fiona Saywell, Geopark Manager for the North West Highlands Geopark said, I have at least 3 new contacts from Thursday’s networking, with multiple pieces of information and possible routes to follow up on for future and existing work. Having opportunities through co-leading the afternoon breakout groups, to find out what tourism providers think, know and want to know about the North West Highlands Geopark, was so valuable”.

Venture North’s Tourism Gathering was held on Thursday 28th March 2024 and was sponsored by Caithness Chamber of Commerce & Developing the Young Workforce North Highland, with support from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, NRS Dounreay, and VisitScotland.

Magnus Davidson, Dounreay’s Socio Economics Manager, said: “NRS Dounreay is pleased to be working with Venture North to help promote responsible and sustainable community-led tourism in the north Highlands and building valuable partnerships to boost a collective voice is crucial in doing this effectively.”

Presentations from the Venture North Tourism Gathering 2024 can be viewed online, visit: https://www.venture-north.co.uk/about-venture-north/tourism-gathering-2024

CASHFLOW & PROFITABILITY DECLINE AS HIGH COSTS HAMMER BUSINESSES

CASHFLOW & PROFITS DECLINE: Q1 has seen a significant downturn in cashflow and profits, with sizeable contractions recorded across four of the five sectors.

RECRUITMENT CHALLENGES: More businesses are reporting challenges in recruiting staff, increasing to 47% for the quarter compared to 40% in the last quarter. However, recruitment intentions remain stable for the next quarter.

MORE PRICE RISES ON THE HORIZON: More firms are indicating that they will raise prices this quarter compared to last, rising by 10 percentage points to 50% of all firms.

COST PRESSURES RISING: The leading cost pressures remain labour costs (76%), energy costs (60%) and raw material prices (44%), with more companies raising concerns specifically on labour and energy costs.

INVESTMENT STILL FROZEN: Over half of firms have reported investment freezes and do not expect this to change next quarter due to economic uncertainty.

Stephen Leckie, President of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce said:

“The latest insights from Scottish business underscores the extreme cost pressures facing companies in all sectors. The persistently high cost of doing business is hammering cashflow and profitability which will hit the economy in the long-term.
“The operating environment – nationally and globally – is exceptionally challenging.

“Geopolitics has moved up the agenda in boardrooms underlining the critical role governments will continue to play to ensure smooth trading conditions. Red Sea disruption, unresolved global conflicts and emerging concerns on data sovereignty are live issues businesses and communities require clarity on.

“Despite this, Scottish businesses are showing signs of resilience with business confidence and recruitment intentions remaining stable for the next quarter.”

On Tax, Stephen Leckie, said:

“Closer to home, businesses continue to express major dissatisfaction with tax policy direction from Scottish and UK Governments. Businesses are concerned about the impact of income tax divergence between Scotland and rest of UK in attracting and retaining talent. Scotland’s additional regulations such as the tourism tax is also a cause for concern which is increasing the cost of doing business.

“The message from businesses is clear: we need Governments north and south of the border to reduce the tax burden.”

On the Labour Market, Stephen Leckie said:

“More businesses are struggling to find and secure the skills and talent they need with recruitment difficulties significantly increasing over the quarter.

“The planned increase in the national minimum wage, whilst welcome for workers, will heap extra costs on the most vulnerable sectors such as hospitality and leisure explaining why labour costs is the number one cost pressure this quarter.

“Changes to the UK immigration system also threaten to harm Scotland’s attractiveness, with a planned 50% rise in the minimum salary threshold for a Skilled Worker visa from April.

“This policy alone will make it impossible for many Scottish businesses to hire international staff as the salary threshold is far higher than Scotland’s average wage. The UK Government must adopt a business-friendly approach which aligns with Scotland’s economic needs.”

On Investment, Stephen Leckie said:

“Investment remains a significant cause for concern. Over half of firms have reported investment freezes and do not expect this to change next quarter due to economic uncertainty.“The challenges highlighted in the survey are a perfect storm impacting investment decisions: recruitment challenges, tax burdens, weak cashflow and declining profits.

“Firms needs a clear framework to attract capital investment in areas such as housing. This should also include reducing regulatory burdens, quicker planning decisions and targeted incentives.”

Commenting on the survey results, Professor Mairi Spowage, Director of the Fraser of Allander Institute, said:

“Economic data in early 2024 is showing that the economy is likely to be recovering hesitantly as expected, following the contractions in growth in the final part of 2023.

“Some of this positivity is reflected in the survey published today. Despite some of the headwinds reported by businesses – including increasing employment costs – business confidence is still in positive territory. There are clear sectoral differences, as might be expected, with the retail and hospitality sector in particular having a subdued set of results. The increase in the national minimum wage coming in April, while positive for workers, is likely to impact particularly on these sectors.

“The verdict of our assessment chimes really well with the results from the survey today: that things are difficult, but that there are both signs of and hope of improvement.”

  • Trudy Morris, CEO Caithness Chamber of Commerce, speaking at the Focus North Conference, March 2024.
    Trudy Morris, CEO Caithness Chamber of Commerce, speaking at the Focus North Conference, March 2024.

FutureSkills on the agenda at Focus North Conference, with the announcement of £100,000 investment to boost new apprenticeship opportunities in the North Highlands.

The Focus North Conference 2024 heralded a significant stride towards bolstering apprenticeship opportunities in the North Highland region with the introduction of the FutureSkills Initiative, generously supported by a £100,000 investment from Focus North partners NRS Dounreay and the NDA. This initiative aims to tackle skill shortages and invigorate investment in new avenues for both businesses and young people through an enhanced apprenticeship grant scheme.

Part of the Caithness Business Fund, the FutureSkills initiative will offer eligible businesses the opportunity to access financial grant support of up to £24,500 over a maximum period of three years, aiding in employment and associated training costs of an apprentice.

The scheme will be open to businesses that can demonstrate a strong commitment to hosting a modern apprenticeship and providing a supportive pathway. Primarily targeted at SMEs, it seeks to stimulate business growth by facilitating new apprenticeship opportunities and overcoming potential financial hurdles.

During the conference, over 160 individuals came together to learn about the programme’s three key pillars: inspire our people, preparing our region, and grow our economy, showcasing a positive outlook for the North Highland region.

Trudy Morris, Executive Director of the Caithness Business Fund and CEO of Caithness Chamber of Commerce, commented:

“The Focus North Conference highlighted that our region is at the cusp of transformative opportunities, marking the beginning of an exciting new era of employment generation.”

“Expanding the pool of skilled people in the North Highland region stands as Focus North’s number one priority. One of the ways we are driving this forward is through the FutureSkills Initiative which will support local businesses to create new apprenticeship opportunities for our young people.”

“Through an uptick in apprenticeship applications to the Fund, we have seen a growing desire among local businesses to establish and further develop their workforce. Alongside this research through our Developing the Young Workforce programme revealed many young people have a future aspiration to pursue this pathway. This cannot be understated when it comes to building resilience into our local economy and communities.”

“We are delighted to have the backing of Focus North partners NRS Dounreay and the NDA on this initiative, recognising the critical importance of enabling new apprenticeship opportunities.”

To find out more about the Caithness Business Fund and the FutureSkills apprenticeship grant scheme contact the Fund team on : Tel: 01847 500104 | Email: enquiries@caithnessbusinessfund.co.uk