The head of a Scottish Government jobs agency has launched a scathing attack on oil industry bosses for “shedding jobs left, right and centre” – and then blaming Holyrood.
Damien Yeates, chief executive of Skills Development Scotland (SDS), referred to the “appalling” way he claimed some firms had treated their workers while giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s education committee this week.
But furious industry chiefs and local politicians accused government bodies of shirking responsibility, and stressed no firm wanted to make the “tough decisions” they have been faced with over the last few months.
Since the global decline in oil price more than 65,000 jobs have been lost both directly and indirectly across the UK.
During the committee, North East MSP Ross Thomson pointed out that business bodies had criticised how government agencies such as SDS has responded to the ongoing plunge in oil prices.
But Mr Yeates said: “One of the things I find most disturbing about the north-east is the lack of challenge back to the employers and industry.
“We remarked five years ago that the industry was challenging government about skills shortages.
“There was a lack of engineers, a lack of technicians, the process engineers were being stolen from the whisky industry and food and drink to drive up the growth in the sector.
“When we looked at that and it was pretty obvious that in the late 70s and early 80s a lot of the big companies in oil and gas switched off investment in training.
“It takes 14 years to get a chartered engineer… and suddenly it’s the government’s fault that they don’t have the appropriate talent to sustain the industry going forward.
“We pull out all the stops to ensure training funds to stoke up the industry. We then get a shock in the sector and what’s the first reaction from industry? To shed staff.
“There will be an upturn in the sector, there will be an improvement in the price of oil and we’ll be sitting here in five years’ time arguing about the skills shortage in the sector.”
He was backed by Pat Rafferty, Scottish secretary of the biggest offshore union Unite, who said: “Unite knows that offshore operators are facing challenges. But companies have to realise that they can’t prop up their profits – or create a sustainable industry – by simply attacking the skilled workers who are the bedrock of their success.
“Energy companies need to work with their staff to build for the future.
“It’s bad for the industry. It’s bad for our members. And it’s bad for the wider economy that relies on their income – especially in the north east of Scotland.”
But Mr Thomson, who also serves as Conservative spokesman for further education, higher education and science, hit out at Mr Yeates comments.
He said: “I think companies across the north-east will be very concerned about the tone of these comments from such a senior figure within a Scottish Government agency.
“Rather than accept any responsibility, the blame was laid solely at the door of the industry.
“We have real challenges in the north-east, and all agencies need to work together to ensure that the region gets through this downturn the local economy continues to thrive in the long term.”
Alix Thom, workforce engagement and skills manager at Oil and Gas UK said: “We cannot underestimate the impact the global downturn in the industry is having on the UK sector.
“No-one wants to see jobs lost but companies are having to make difficult decisions because of the tough business climate.
“Industry is working extremely hard to be as efficient as possible to ensure a sustainable future for our sector which still supports hundreds of thousands of jobs across the UK.”