Scotland business

Sturgeon offers North Sea support as bank boss Carney comments on oil prices

North Sea oil platform Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption North Sea oil price have recently fallen to less than $50 a barrel

A taskforce is to be set up to support jobs in Scotland's oil and gas sector, the first minister has announced.

Nicola Sturgeon also made the offer of a funded guarantee to support apprenticeships in the North Sea during a visit to Aberdeen.

The announcement came as Bank of England boss Mark Carney said the fall in oil prices represented a "negative shock" to the Scottish economy

He was appearing before the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee.

Scotland's oil industry has about 2,200 modern apprenticeships.

But the sharp decline of oil prices to less than $50 a barrel has led to concerns for the sector.

Ms Sturgeon said if an apprentice faces being laid off, the Scottish government would offer a £5,000 incentive for another company to step in.

Failing that, there would be funding for continuing off-the-job training.

Ms Sturgeon said the North Sea had made an "enormous contribution" to the Scottish and UK economies over the past 40 years.

She added: "It is now vital, in order to prolong the life of the industry beyond 2050 and maximise economic benefits, that the UK government maintains the momentum for fiscal and regulatory change in the oil and gas sector.

"I've seen for myself how Scottish companies such as Sea Energy Ltd are continuing to see success by signing major overseas deals. This is reassuring and I applaud its, and Scottish Enterprise's, hard work to secure such contracts.

"However, the recent drop in the price of a barrel of crude oil, combined with the mismanagement of oil and gas fiscal policy by the UK government, and other challenges facing the industry, pose a threat to a number of jobs."

Mr Carney was quizzed about falling oil prices when he came before MPs at Westminster.

He told select committee members: "It is a negative shock to the Scottish economy but it is a negative shock substantially mitigated by the fiscal arrangements in the UK."

Mr Carney suggested the impact on Scotland of the lower price would be cushioned by the wider benefits to the UK as a whole - where falling petrol prices was putting more money into consumers' pockets.

He added: "My personal view is that the net impact of the decline in the oil price at this stage is net positive for growth in the UK."

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said Mr Carney's comments was more evidence that had Scotland voted Yes on 18 September, it would now be "facing up to financial meltdown".

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Meanwhile, the new Energy Jobs Taskforce, chaired by Scottish Enterprise chief executive Lena Wilson, will report to the Scottish Energy Advisory Board and will focus on supporting jobs across the energy sector, but with an initial emphasis on the oil and gas industry.

The taskforce, which will meet for the first time by the end of the month, will include representatives from the oil and gas industry, local and central government, enterprise bodies and unions.

The announcement follows key figures from the oil and gas sector meeting with both Scottish and UK ministers in London on Tuesday to discuss how the industry could best weather the storm caused by falling prices.

'Election strategy'

The Scottish government has been pressing for taxes for the sector to be reformed in a bid to encourage more investment.

But Scottish Labour accused the SNP of being "silent on the oil crisis that is putting thousands of jobs at risk because their general election strategy relies on it".

The party's energy spokeswoman, Jackie Baillie, said: "Oil jobs appear to be an afterthought for the first minister, who only contacted union officials in Aberdeen to arrange a meeting on Monday.

"We know why the SNP are sitting on their hands. If they take the oil crisis seriously, it undermines their entire electoral strategy.

"The SNP's general election campaign revolves around binning Barnett. This would mean a straight choice between huge job losses in the oil industry or billions of pounds of cuts to public services."

Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael and UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey will both be in Aberdeen on Thursday to discuss assistance for the industry.

Aberdeen City Council has confirmed it is to host an oil summit on 2 February that will be attended by both Ms Sturgeon and Mr Carmichael.

The event will be aimed at coming up with meaningful responses to the oil price slump and other challenges facing the industry.

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