Westminster Comment by Sir Robert Smith MP - Crucial need to protect local jobs

Sir Bob
Sir Bob

The challenges facing the North Sea oil and gas industry have been widely reported in recent weeks and in Westminster I have been raising the crucial need to protect jobs in the North-east and implement Sir Ian Wood’s recommendations for the industry.

Last week, I spoke in a debate in Westminster Hall and highlighted the fact that, as a result in the fall in the oil price, we not only risk losing specialised oil and gas jobs, but also jobs from our wider local economy.

Hotels, caterers, taxi firms and many other businesses in the North-east all benefit from the energy companies based in the city and shire.

Efforts have to made to help companies who might also be effected by the downturn and I have written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to ask what contingency plans will be put in place to make sure local Job Centres are able to offer support and advice to anyone who needs it.

We need to keep energy and export companies anchored to the North-east and this will require the Scottish Government to invest in infrastructure and skills development.

I also stated my belief that the Chancellor should use his Budget statement in March to send a clear message to investors that the UK is committed to the North Sea industry.

A further cut to the supplementary tax would help to incentivise exploration and activity.

It would also demonstrate that the UK Government continues to have confidence in the future of the industry.

On Monday energy was also the focus during a debate on the Infrastructure Bill.

This is a wide-ranging Bill, but of particular relevance to the North-east is the clause that will enshrine in law Sir Ian Wood’s recommendation to maximise the economic recovery of North Sea oil and gas. Some MPs had tabled amendments which would have removed this crucial clause but I am pleased to say those amendments failed.

I spoke during that debate and pointed out that our commitment to the North Sea is not incompatible with tackling climate change.

Carbon emissions are a serious problem and we should use lower carbon energy sources where possible.

Our renewables industry is not yet large enough and we do need to use a mix of energy sources so that we have energy security.

North Sea gas is significantly lower in carbon compared to highly polluting coal and we should use this rather than imports from countries such as Qatar.

The deadline for the publication of draft legislation to deliver greater powers to the Scottish Parliament, in accordance with the Smith Commission Agreement was Burns Night.

The Government published the legislation ahead of schedule and in doing so took an important step forward towards delivering the referendum Vow.

The draft proposals will give the Scottish Parliament new tax powers to raise over half of the money it spends and powers to create a new Scottish Welfare System with a starting budget of £2.5 billion.

Other powers relating to energy, civil protections, transport and public bodies will also be devolved.

Liberal Democrats have long supported Home Rule for Scotland I welcome this very significant development. All five major parties in Scotland signed the Smith Agreement and all parties must stand by this so that the newly proposed powers can begin to benefit Scottish people as soon as possible.

Anyone who received post that was sent between Tuesday and Saturday, January 20 and 24, within Scotland may have noticed a special Royal Mail postmark on their letters that read “Celebrating Burns Night January 25”. It was good to see Royal Mail celebrating Burns Night and I hope that everyone who took part in any festivities had an enjoyable time.