Sir Ian Wood warned yesterday that the north-east faces becoming a “museum” if the region fails to secure funding from the £3billion Aberdeen City Region Deal.
Sir Ian said the worst-case scenario would see the rapid demise of the oil and gas sector, a failure to develop other industries and tens of thousands more job losses.
But he said the region would enjoy a “renaissance” if it lands the money and uses the funds to back the energy sector, improve infrastructure and develop industries such as tourism, food and drink and life sciences.
He urged stakeholders in the north-east to get behind the application to prevent the region going into decline.
The City Region Deal is aimed at providing long-term economic vitality, and anchoring oil and gas sector skills in the region.
The funds would be spent on infrastructure in the north-east over two decades. Aberdeen’s road and rail links, its harbour and its airport could all benefit.
Sir Ian, who is leading a new private sector taskforce that is supporting the bid from the local authorities, said 20,000 jobs could be lost in the event of a snub from the UK Government.
He said the estimate was “very conservative”.
Sir Ian said: “North-east Scotland is facing two scenarios. The ‘museum’ scenario paints a pretty bleak picture where there is a fairly fast run-down in oil and gas, failure to recover the full potential from the North Sea, an early loss of our international oil base status and no drive to broaden our economy.
“The second is one of renaissance where we maximise the economic recovery of the UK’s hydro-carbon resources, extend the run-down in North Sea production, ensure we become a long-term international oil operations and technology base, and take major steps to broaden our economy.”
“We must all be committed to achieving this renaissance,” he told the 150-strong audience at a Robert Gordon University (RGU) economic summit.
The event, “Aberdeen, Scotland – the Next Chapter”, was convened in support of the City Region Deal and featured presentations from business leaders from a range of sectors.
Sir Ian said the number of initiatives currently being developed in the north-east showed both the public and private sectors have “woken up” to the challenge. He said proposals for an oil and gas technology centre, a new exhibition and conference centre and the Aberdeen harbour expansion would be of great benefit to the region.
He said the north-east has suffered over the years from a lack of investment in infrastructure and that reversing the trend was key to keeping skilled workers in the north-east.
Sir Ian also said he wants Aberdeen to come up with a “major tourist attraction” to boost visitor numbers.
It could be of a similar ilk to The Kelpies, which he said had significantly increased visitor numbers to the Falkirk area. He also praised the progress being made by the energy sector, the UK Government and the Oil and Gas Authority in their efforts to support North Sea industry.
He said the private sector has already proved it is willing to invest in the region, pointing to major offshore developments being led by the likes of Statoil, Maersk and Apache. “It’s not a blank space looking ahead,” Sir Ian said. “We need to get the economy through a difficult period over the next 40 years. It will only work if we all sign on to it and get behind the City Region Deal.” He added he would provide more “details” on the taskforce next week, but did not go into further detail.