Report damns Scottish Government efforts to support North Sea industry

A file photo of the Galaxy II jack-up rig at the Catcher field in the North Sea
Galaxy II jack-up rig at the Catcher field in the North Sea

A new report has given a damning assessment of the Scottish Government’s efforts to help the North Sea oil and gas industry in its hour of need.

Oil and gas companies said the impact of the government’s fund for retraining oil workers and its jobs taskforce had been “minimal”.

Political opponents said the 25th Oil and Gas survey showed the SNP had been too slow to act and had failed to tackle north-east job losses.

Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse said Westminster retained the “main powers” for supporting the oil and gas industry and that the Scottish Government was doing everything it could.

A mere 6% of oil and gas companies reported any impact from the Energy Jobs Taskforce. Of those respondents, just 4% said the initiative had been beneficial and 2% said it had been negative.

Appraisals of the £12million Transition Training Fund were just as underwhelming, according to the research from the Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce (AGCC) and the Fraser of Allander Institute.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the creation of the taskforce in early 2015 to help those who lost their jobs during the downturn get back into work.

But the initiative was slated after it emerged that Ms Sturgeon had failed to hold a single meeting with taskforce chairwoman Lena Wilson for more than six months last year.

At least 800 offshore workers were made redundant during that period.

The training fund was unveiled in February 2016, but it had allocated money to just 91 people by the start of June, prompting further criticism.

Since then, the initiative has gathered pace. As of yesterday evening, 2,664 applications had been received, with 1,128 having been approved for funding.

But opposition MSPs say the survey demonstrated that the SNP’s efforts had fallen short.

Alexander Burnett, Scottish Conservative energy spokesman, said: “We hear a lot of tub-thumping from the SNP about how much it does to support the oil and gas industry, but these survey results show that these policies are having little impact.”

North-east Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald said: “This survey confirms what I hear from oil workers in the north-east and their trade unions, that what the Scottish Government has done has been too little and too late. Employers too clearly feel that not enough is being done to address the impact of the downturn on the north-east and the wider economy.”

Mr Wheelhouse said the taskforce was developing “long-term solutions” and that the training fund had exceeded expectations for its first year.

He said: “We all know significant opportunities remain in the North Sea, but measures are urgently required to encourage new investment.
“That’s why Scottish ministers were bitterly disappointed last week when the Chancellor ignored their calls and failed to use the Autumn Statement to deliver the support the industry deserves.”

The report also said that of the 15 operators or licensees who responded, only six felt the Oil and Gas Authority’s influence had been positive.

The OGA declined to comment.

The survey was conducted in September 2016 and represents the views of 130 firms employing a total of 308,661 employees in the UK.