The SNP Government today faced calls to create a new generation of entrepreneurs from Scotland’s sacked oil workers. Already Britain’s offshore oil sector has seen the loss of 65,000 jobs since the crisis at the start of last year. The number of industry jobs has fallen from 440,000 to 375,000. Other reports suggest that a further 35,000 jobs will be slashed by 2019, as many as 4,000 a year coming from Aberdeen and the Grampian areas where 40,000 jobs currently depend on the sector.
Scottish Conservative candidate Derek Wann said Nicola Sturgeon’s Government was bereft of “big ideas” for the beleaguered sector and had failed those who had lost their jobs over the past year by refusing to act progressively and decisively. And he called on the First Minister to create a new innovation fund for business start-ups.
“Some of these guys could teach the SNP Government a thing or two about innovation and progressive thinking,” said the candidate for Angus South. “It’s inconceivable that talent and innovation does not exist among those who have suffered from the slump. We need to innovate ourselves out of this crisis and offset the economic impact; And it’s obvious to me that we need to use the oil crisis to spark more entrepreneurship and challenge people to create new
Mr Wann pointed to the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 fund as a model for change. “What is the Oil and Gas Authority doing? What is Nicola Sturgeon’s Energy Jobs Taskforce set up by the Scottish Government to support the industry in January doing? What is the Scottish Energy Advisory Board doing in terms of providing real help for those who are out of work and have no real prospect of finding a job elsewhere?”
“There needs to be tangible action to help those out of work. Already I’m hearing tremendously encouraging stories of new start-up companies… but we need to do more to drive this trend. There needs to be process and a solid investment tool for research and innovation by those who have something to offer.”
“The future of oil and gas is dependent on breakout thinkers and entrepreneurs, but they need help to hothouse their ideas, which will come from a lifetime’s experience. They also need the funding which will lead to the development of world leading technologies and skills in our oil and gas industry.”
A report for the industry body Oil and Gas UK last year estimated the sector is worth about £35bn to the UK economy. In 2012-13 the industry paid £6.5bn in taxes to the UK government. Oil and Gas UK said 330,000 other jobs are directly sustained by the industry with 207,000 people within the wider supply chain and a further 100,000 jobs supported by the economic activity created by employees’ spending. Of Britain’s remaining 375,000 oil and gas jobs, some 45 per cent are based in Scotland.
It’s estimated that there are 25 billion barrels of oil remaining in the North Sea. “SME Instrument” is a new 2.8 billion euros funding scheme of the European Commission managed by The Executive Agency for Small and Medium sized Enterprises (EASME) to support economic growth, thanks to which a business could receive up to three million euros in funding, business support and mentorship. It is part of Horizon 2020, EU Research and Innovation programme with nearly £67 (€80 billion) of funding available from this year up to 2020. Enterprise and Industry says that more than 99 per cent of all European businesses are micro, small and medium sized enterprises. They provide two out of three of the private sector jobs and contribute to more than half of the total value added tax created by businesses in the EU.
The blue-sky research agency, the European Research Council, also provides ‘proof of concept’ grants to existing grantees to test the marketability of their research findings. Breakthrough innovations in the oil and gas sector such as 4D imaging, inspection drones, nanotech, tubing technologies and big data measurement processing have already attracted angel investors and support from schemes like Horizon 2020.
“Fergus Ewing seems to have fallen asleep on the job,” Mr Wann added. “If there’s existing funding available for innovative start-ups then what’s he doing to promote it? Such schemes remain out of reach for Scots oil workers and what’s really needed is a programme of funding for great ideas here in the North-East.”
That’s the kind of support we need to see from the First Minister and her Government. Not more talking shops which achieve nothing.
“This oil crisis means failure to act in a bold and progressive is not an option. The big question the SNP Government needs to ask themselves is how do they kickstart the North-east economy which has been so badly blighted in recent times, and how do they maximise the future potential of all those who have lost their jobs.”
Derek Wann – Conservative candidate for Angus South.