On your bike to Aberdeen

"There's a buzz aboot Aiberdeen", says Jimmy Milne, one of the big characters of the offshore sector. It's demonstrated by the extremely low unemployment rate.

There are "loads of jobs". You can throw money at recruitment and still not find the people you need.

So those looking for jobs should "get aff their fat bums and get up here," says the chairman and managing director of Balmoral Group, last week inducted into the Entrepreneurial Exchange's Hall of Fame.

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Image caption A survey shows that the short-term outlook for the oil and gas sector is optimistic

His message is borne out, at least in part, by a new survey - published Monday by Lloyds Bank Corporate Markets, showing the short-term outlook of the oil and gas sector is far more optimistic than anywhere else.

Three quarters of firms expect to hire staff in the next two years, and a quarter expect to do so on a big scale. More than four out of five expect to grow orders through the supply chain next year, and more than quarter are beginning to deploy their considerable offshore skills in the renewable energy sector.

Weathering the storm

Jimmy Milne's is the same "one your bike" message that earned Tory cabinet minister Norman Tebbit a special notoriety back in the 1980s.

But this isn't politics. It's the oil sector, and it's Aberdeen, where you tell it bluntly as you see it.

And what Milne sees, as he surveys the industrial estate where Balmoral sits atop the hill where his father used to farm, is an opportunity to expand into commercial property, with a speculative office development. There aren't many of them to be found in the central belt.

His was one of the voices I heard on a visit to Aberdeen to make a short film for the Politics Show, to find out about part of the country that's weathering the economic storm remarkably well.

Aberdeen isn't without the challenges that come from government spending cuts (its council led the way, as a result of budget mismanagement). It's got its pockets of deprivation too. Indeed, opposition politicians highlight the problem of housing if all those people are to head north to take up the job opportunities.

The other complaint I heard from Rita Stephen, of Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Forum, is that many of the technical whizzes operating in the offshore sector need to have far faster broadband than they've got at present, to communicate drilling data to and from the rest of the world. Only two exchanges are being adapted for superfast broadband so far, she claims, leaving another 100 or so to go.

Budget raid

But amid the doom and gloom in the economy, the city's and shire's attachment to the cycles of the global oil market mean it is unusually far removed from the economy in the rest of the country. Not since the 1980s (and the Norman Tebbit era, as it happens) have the fortunes of the north-east and the rest of Scotland looked so divergent.

It's largely explained by the high oil price. While other markets have been volatile, Brent crude has remained quite high and relatively stable. Even though oil economist Tony Mackay identified a much sharper decline in North Sea output in recent months, it's hard to discern much of a knock-on effect of George Osborne's £2bn Budget raid on the offshore production sector slowing up investment and activity.

But then, that partly reflects the increasing orientation of the sector away from UK waters.

So it's also partly explained by the company growth and export orientation that's commonplace in the north-east.

Jimmy Milne and the Balmoral Group have recently trebled exports. They make up 90% of what they do in the buoyancy market, and having bought a specialist water-tank maker in Wales, he's looking to open a manufacturing plant in Brazil.

Business resilience

On a totally different matter, and for those more focussed on potential fall-out from the eurozone crisis than on the big opportunities in the offshore buoyancy market, it's worth considering the advice of Charlie Maclean-Bristol.

With his wife, Kim, he runs Plan B Consulting, one of four small, specialist business continuity consultancies, bringing to it his experience in logistics planning and wargaming for the Army.

And while they can't offer advice on hedging against default and currency fluctuation, he reckons companies should prepare to treat a meltdown as the kind of event that requires an emergency response.

If overseas customers or suppliers face a ferocious squeeze from their banks, and the uncertainty of new currencies, what are you going to do?

Charlie and Kim were talking to me for the Business Scotland programme looking at what to do to keep a business ticking over when it's struck by the unexpected; weather, IT, staff loss, a key asset failing. You can hear it again on iplayer or by free download.

Lottery losses

There's some useful advice there about proofing a business against the unexpected or an unwanted event; about imaginative use of text messaging, for instance, and ensuring staff have the flexibility to respond, by parking work that can wait and by focussing on the immediate continuity requirements.

At Plan B, they recommend focussing on the more realistic threat of a burst pipe cascading water through several floors of an office block, of an IT failure, or snow stopping your staff getting to work, rather than seeking out exotic possibilities from ash clouds to tsunamis to avian flu.

But there is a reminder that 2012 is reckoned to be a good (or bad) year for solar flares, which have the capacity to knock out satellites or electricity grids. More corporate clients and government contracts are requiring continuity plans as a condition of tendering for work.

Meanwhile, Kim Maclean-Bristol suggests bosses consider the risk of their staff running a Lottery syndicate. What if they win, and all suddenly quit?

In the interests of business continuity, she asks: should you let a vital team form such a syndicate? If so, as boss, perhaps it's best to make sure you're a member.