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Stewart Nicol: Ensuring north workforce is on the front line

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It is almost six months since the relaunch of the Open4Business Highlands and Islands (04B H&I) online portal and it is clear the facility is proving its worth in providing Highland companies with major contract opportunities.

O4B H&I is operated by Inverness Chamber of Commerce, which was awarded a two-year contract by Highlands and Islands Enterprise in April.

Since then the free platform has offered small and medium sized companies in the region greater opportunities to secure work and has helped suppliers and service providers advertise to a wider audience.

Inverness Chamber of Commerce chief executive, Stewart Nicol.

The portal was originally established by SSE in 2012 and over the next five years it saw 460 contracts worth £174 million awarded and 1,500 suppliers registered.

It was a hard act to follow, but the confidence being shown in the local workforce and in the platform’s ability to help recruit from within the Highlands is more than encouraging.

Since Inverness Chamber of Commerce took over the contract, an additional 136 users have registered to use the portal and while the value of some contracts are not disclosed, the opportunities arising to date are worth many tens of millions of pounds. The most significant opportunity to date came last month when new contracts for onshore infrastructure and installation work relating to the Moray West Wind Farm were posted on O4B H&I.

Moray West is one of the world’s largest offshore wind projects with plans to develop a wind farm in the Outer Moray Firth consisting of an array of up to 85 turbines, connected to an onshore substation.

This opportunity alone is worth many millions of pounds and clearly demonstrates the enormous employment potential of the offshore wind industry.

Moray West lead partners EDPR and ENGIE recognise the need to support the local supply chain and also the potential value from using local suppliers to the site.

They feel that using local suppliers should be cost competitive and so provide value to the project. Local contracts will support local employment on the road towards the DeepWind aspiration of creating at least 3,000 jobs across the area by 2030.

We have also had opportunities arising from the sister Moray East Wind Farm project for CTVs (Crew Transfer Vessels) and Ecological Clerk of Works for the SSE Seagreen Offshore Wind Farm.

Other potential contracts promoted via O4B H&I include bathymetric studies at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney, while a future contract notice was posted by a member of the Deepwind offshore wind cluster and NorthConnect, which will build an electrical link between Scotland and Norway, has used the portal to arrange a “meet the buyer” event.

We have a fully operational Helpdesk providing support and guidance to those requiring assistance to register and/or log in to the portal and we hold regular events to raise awareness of the portal and the opportunities it can provide.

The most recent of these were held earlier this month in Caithness and Aviemore and we have others planned in Moray on October 3 and in Shetland the following week (October 9).

O4B H&I is helping ensure the Highland workforce is in the frontline when major contracts are being awarded in this area.

Offshore wind is a good example of how we can use the platform to maintain and develop a local supply chain across many sectors for the benefit of the region’s economy.

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