Crucial weeks for the North Sea
No-one can doubt that the sharp fall in the oil price has led to serious concerns about jobs and investment, yet, prior to this there was serious concern about escalating costs in the North Sea industry and its implications for the sector’s long-term competitiveness.
Thanks to a number of changes to the tax system, significant projects have been unlocked stimulating record investment. This has led to a bunching of projects and severe cost inflation.
In these circumstances most companies initiated urgent cost reviews both in terms of their own staffing levels and the rates of their contractors. These came to a head just as the collapse in the oil price was taking hold, leading people to connect the two.
The reality is that these redundancies were based on a relatively high oil price, meaning that in the event of a long-term real reduction a lot more rationalisation will take place.
That is why it is crucial that the recommendations of the Wood Review are implemented as quickly as possible. Energy Secretary Ed Davey set up the Wood Review and as a result established the Oil and Gas Authority which has a respected Chief Executive in Andy Samuel. He needs to be joined by a board and fully complemented technical team as soon as possible. This is on course for April.
The Government also needs to implement in the budget the investment allowances announced in the Autumn Statement and further tax cuts and reliefs to restore confidence in the industry for the long term.
It is more important than ever to secure co-operation among companies for the infrastructure necessary to develop clustered fields. It will reduce costs and secure the production of billions of barrels of oil and gas that might otherwise be left behind.
By the same token the industry needs a tax regime that encourages maximum exploration and production following consultation that sounds out the impact of tax changes on different fields and operators.
Challenges facing Scottish education
There are real issues facing education locally at the moment. It is clear that recruiting and retaining teachers is causing severe pressures at a time when the new Curriculum for Excellence is at a crucial stage of implementation.
A few years ago newly qualified probationary teachers were unable to get full time teaching posts. Now, it seems as a result, fewer teachers are being trained and as a result filling vacant posts is becoming more difficult.
The Curriculum for Excellence is also under strain as schools try to arrange timetables and prepare for exams. This, in turn, is leading to a restriction on subject options as pupils have to select six subjects.
One of the casualties of this is language teaching despite the importance of languages for a trading nation such as the UK.
Further concerns are raised with the reduction in college places which offer a crucial avenue into skills development and work opportunities for school leavers and for adult retraining.
Home Rule delivered after break-up rejected
The Government has made rapid progress in taking forward the delivery of extra powers to the Scottish Parliament following up the transfer of powers already voted through in 2012.
Nationalists will never rest until they have broken up the UK so say Smith doesn’t deliver enough. I suspect that those who say this mostly don’t even know what the draft legislation does promise.
Most importantly it delivers income tax, half of VAT, air passenger duty and landfill tax. It also allows for a number of powers over welfare – consistent with retaining a UK wide welfare policy from which Scotland benefits.
Alex Salmond says he no longer wants to talk about independence – you bet he doesn’t. It is what he came into politics for and it has been overwhelmingly rejected by the people of Gordon.
Instead he says he wants to talk about Home Rule – a long standing Liberal objective which the Smith Commission delivers. Mr Salmond misrepresents the term saying it means everything except foreign affairs and defence. Has he forgotten the quagmire he fell into over use of the pound? Does he fail to understand the single market, financial regulation, fiscal policy and our shared welfare system?