Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce’s boss slammed Jeremy Hunt’s “underwhelming at best” Spring budget as the government returns to “snail-like habits”.
During the chamber of commerce business breakfast at the Granite City’s Sandman Hotel, chief executive Russell Borthwick posed the question to those in attendance, “does the region get short-changed?”
Mr Borthwick said that the Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce (AGCC) composed a letter to the chancellor ahead of the UK government’s Spring Budget this week and “once again Mr Hunt has refused to listen” according to the north-east boss.
Expressing disappointment on Peterhead’s proposed Acorn Carbon Capture and Storage site experiencing delays yet again in a “snail-like” display from Westminster.
It was said that the UK government needs to match the cash pledged by Holyrood’s just transition fund.
Mr Borthwick said: “We now need to have it confirmed quickly that Acorn and the Scottish CCUS, which has the carbon storage potential for all the CO2 emitted in the UK since the Industrial Revolution, to be included before investors take their money elsewhere.”
This comes as Simon Brebner, chief executive of Peterhead Port Authority told the Chancellor to pick up the pace on support for the Acorn CCS project. He warned the region has “waited too long for this as it is”.
Show me the money
One of the speakers at the event, Bob Cardno, a partner at EY, said that he was unable to find the £20 billion pledge to carbon capture in the UK balance sheets which prompted his colleague, Derek Leith, to joke that this was simply an accumulation of 20 years of billion-pound pledges that the sector had not seen yet.
“I have to say, I went hunting to see if I could find that £20 billion somewhere in the numbers and I couldn’t find it.”
However, it is worth noting that Mr Cardno did say that despite not being able to find the sum in the report, it does not mean the figure is not there.
‘The first budget since 2021’
The EY partner argued that due to the turbulent time in UK politics over the past couple of years (that’s putting it mildly), with multiple cabinets formed by a revolving door of Tory prime ministers, Wednesday’s document effectively served as “the first budget since 2021”.
Even if this is the “first budget since 2021”, Mr Leith joined the AGCC boss in his disapproval of the document, saying: “Nothing in the budget left me feeling any more confident.”
Later adding: “I feel quite irritated about where we have found ourselves as an industry.”
Wider industry reaction
Those speaking at the AGCC business breakfast were not alone in expressing disapproval since Jeremy Hunt delivered his Spring Budget speech in the House of Commons this week.
Insurance firm Qdos has said the omission of IR35 reforms from a so-called back to work budget “smack of irony”.
The trade body Offshore Energies UK added that it was “disappointed” by the budget, claiming it “missed the mark.”
However, Jean Morrison, chair of Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group (AREG), welcomed the government’s plan for scaling up the UK’s carbon capture and storage sector with £20 billion of investment.
She said: “Although we are disappointed the Acorn project at St Fergus was not mentioned during the Chancellor’s speech, we remain optimistic that with government investment the North-east can be front and centre of CCS expansion.
“The Buchan project has the potential to accelerate the rollout of technology across the UK and we hope to see it on the shortlist of eligible projects later this month.
“In this region, we have access to specialist skills, stemming from 50 years’ expertise in the oil and gas sector, not to mention two leading academic institutions to help facilitate collaboration across industry, government, and research as well as proximity to the infrastructure and facilities to allow industry to capture, transport and store CO2 emissions.”