The Scottish Government has announced it is winding up the energy jobs taskforce established in response to the oil downturn.
But concerns have immediately been raised that the move is premature amid the ongoing uncertainty facing the North Sea industry.
Balmoral Group chairman and managing director James Milne responded that, while there were signs of “green shoots”, big challenges remained.
Labour’s Lewis Macdonald also branded the decision “bad news”, claiming Scottish ministers had “always been very reluctant to accept the scale” of the situation.
And Tory MSP Alexander Burnett argued the step suggested the SNP was “giving up on the sector”.
But a Scottish Government spokesman insisted group members had decided now was an “appropriate time” to disband the taskforce based on “evidence of cautious optimism returning to the sector” and “confidence the industry is now better equipped to operate in a lower price environment”.
He also said the body’s role in monitoring the sector’s health would be transferred to the Oil and Gas Industry Leadership Group (ILG) to ensure its work is “embedded” across the field.
Industry body Oil and Gas UK estimates that around 120,000 jobs have been lost since the downturn started in 2014. Chief executive Deirdre Michie said yesterday she believed the sector was “moving through the downturn”.
She added: “The taskforce has – over the last few years – helped provide good and helpful support for those who lost their jobs in the challenging climate. It is now time for the organisations who have been part of it to own and take forward any activities that may still need to be worked as the business environment moves on.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who will attend the group’s final meeting later this month, came under fire at the start of last year after it emerged she had held no official discussion with then chairwoman Lena Wilson for more than six months – despite 800 offshore workers being made redundant in that period.
But the Scottish Government insisted yesterday the taskforce had delivered redundancy assistance for thousands of individuals and business support for more than 800 companies.
The spokesman added: “Under the advice of the taskforce, oil and gas innovation spend almost trebled last year.
“Funding of £15.9million from Scottish Enterprise supported 82 companies to deliver 111 innovation projects with a combined value of £43million to develop and maintain companies’ global competitiveness.
“Its work and the commitment from members has also been the catalyst for developing a long-term vision for the whole of the industry.”
Andrew Reid, president of consulting at Westwood Global Energy Group, said the north-east economy would face further significant challenges going forward, increasing pressure on jobs and businesses.
He added: “Pulling away from a jobs initiative right now seems to be a bit unwise.
“But that said, I think I would always be hesitant about the success of any sort of energy-related jobs initiative – it’s always going to be exceptionally challenging to make meaningful intervention.”