Jun 102016

With thanks to Eoin Smith, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR.

Jenni_head and shoulders 1Representatives from local tourism body VisitAberdeenshire are heading south of the border to promote the north east of Scotland to international MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and events) buyers later this month. Business development director Peter Medley and Jenni Fraser (pictured), business development manager, will attend The Meetings Show in London from 14-16 June, to promote the region to the lucrative meetings, events and conferencing market.

Over 5,000 meetings industry professionals from across the globe will attend the exhibition, where they will have the chance to learn about the new developments in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire’s venue and incentive offering.

As well as exhibiting to the masses, Peter and Jenni will meet with key business MICE buyers in order to discuss the finer details of what the region has to offer business travellers.

Peter Medley says,

“Attending events like The Meetings Show is an incredibly important step in marketing Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire as a business travel destination to the wider world.

“Although business tourism has dipped in the north east of Scotland over the past year, there are a number of new developments which will make the region an incredibly attractive prospect for those organising world-class conferences and events.

“Hotel room rates, which were once at an all-time high thanks to the high level of energy industry professionals visiting the city, are now at a much more affordable level, making the region much more enticing to those looking for an affordable – and well-equipped – destination to hold a conference or event.”

Improvements to Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire’s infrastructure are making it easier than ever before for overseas travellers to arrive in the north east. Aberdeen International Airport is currently undergoing a £20 million expansion programme, which will see its landside, airside and security facilities improved and updated.

Coupled with new flight routes from Icelandair, which open up faster routes to many US cities and other global destinations, it has never been simpler to travel to Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.

But it is not just the region’s travel facilities which are being overhauled. The Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre (AECC) is about to undergo a massive £333 million redevelopment and relocation, which will see it moved closer to the airport and the Western Peripheral Route.

Due to open in 2019, the new AECC will provide greater connectivity and convenience for those travelling to exhibitions and conferences in the area. New flexible space – including a subterranean area for holding large exhibitions – will provide greatly improved facilities for those organising events.

Similarly, Aberdeen Art Gallery and the Music Hall – both situated in Aberdeen city centre – are experiencing major renovations worth £30 million and £7 million respectively. Providing the perfect venues for gala dinners, drinks receptions and conferences, these new and improved venues will be major assets to the region’s business tourism offering.

Peter concludes,

“When many think of Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, their mind springs immediately to oil and gas, however the region has much more to offer meetings and conferences in all sectors – as evidenced by the wide variety of events celebrated by the Team Aberdeen Ambassador Awards earlier this year.

“The north east is also well equipped to cater for the incentive travel market. We are incredibly lucky to have a number of world-class golf courses in the region, including Royal Aberdeen and the Trump International Golf Links. Add to this a number of spectacular whisky distilleries which offer tours and tastings throughout the year, and it becomes quickly apparent just how much the region has to offer.

“We look forward to meeting event organisers from a wide variety of industries at The Meetings Show in London, and revealing to them exactly what Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire can provide.”

For more information about VisitAberdeenshire, visit www.visitabdn.com

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Mar 112016

Part Four: In The Long Term. By Mike Shepherd

(0)Consider this scenario for Aberdeen and the Northeast of Scotland:

There are no jobs to be had in the area, the existing industries are in decline and those employed in them are poorly paid. Unemployment is above the Scottish average. The population is falling at an astonishing rate of 4,500 per year as the locals seek jobs elsewhere.
Unfavourable comparisons are being made between Dundee and Aberdeen; Dundee is attracting inward investment on the back of preferential treatment from the government, whereas Aberdeen all on its own in the forgotten northeast corner is all but ignored.

No, not a prediction for the future, it is an actual economic snapshot of the Aberdeen area in the 1960s just before North Sea oil was discovered.

Once the oil companies leave, Aberdeen could return to economic circumstances that would be even worse than in the 1960s. At least back then there was some semblance to a diversified economy in the city. Aberdeen was dominated by the fishing industry with over a hundred trawlers in the harbour. It was also a popular tourist destination in the days before foreign travel became common.

Visitors were attracted to the city described then as the ‘Silver City by the Golden Sands’. There were two ship-building yards at the harbour and paper, textiles and combs were made in the city. Not much of this is now left. Aberdeen’s future could be an even bleaker shadow of its past if no action is taken soon to remedy this.

One thing hasn’t changed much since the 1960s however, Aberdeen’s shockingly poor transport links with the rest of the country. Given the city’s relatively remote location this does not bode well for an economic future. The road network in Aberdeenshire is a joke and the railway connection to the south has been shockingly neglected.

The rail link is still single track at Montrose, a well-known bottleneck, although a long overdue action to remedy this may now be about to happen.

Aberdeen can consider itself very hard done by. As pointed out in a previous Aberdeen Voice article ‘How Aberdeen was short-changed over North Sea oil’ – the onshore infrastructure to support North Sea oil was paid by local government and assisted by our rates / council taxes but not by the UK government. Between 1975 and the early 1990s the expenditure by the Grampian Regional Council was in excess of £100 million per year.

The other areas affected by North Sea oil are faring much better than we are. Revenue from the Sullom Voe and Flotta oil terminals means that Shetland now sits on an oil fund of £400 million and the equivalent in Orkney is just under £200 million.

hydrogen busA plan by Grampian Regional Council to levy rates on offshore platforms as a means of funding onshore infrastructure was blocked by the Treasury. Given that the UK tax take from North Sea oil and gas is now over £300 billion in today’s money, there is a strong moral case for the government to now help Aberdeen to establish an economic base for the future.

Our local politicians and media will need to shout very loudly that it was our local government that bankrolled the needs of the oil industry only for all the revenues to go elsewhere.

Yet, the perception is that the city has somehow squandered what should have been its golden goose; that some enormous pot of money was available to Aberdeen to do with whatever we wanted to. Here’s a recent example of this nonsense.

An opinion piece in the Dundee Courier headlined Aberdeen boost: right deal but the wrong city, referred to the recent Aberdeen City Deal, the proposed investment of £250 million in the city announced in January this year:

“I’d argue that Dundee and Perth – jointly progressing a City Deal bid at the moment – are more worthy of that investment at this moment.

“That may sound like sour grapes, but my rationale is this. As the black gold tap ran, Aberdeen had its chance to build a broad-based economy fit to withstand the rigours of the modern world. It had the opportunity to future-proof itself and create prosperity for generations to come. But, if not lost, that chance has certainly not been grasped.”

So what should Aberdeen do to diversify its economy?

I’m a petroleum geologist not an economist, so I will not profess to any special insights on the issue. Others have noted that the city could play to certain strengths; more could be done to attract tourists, particularly given the region’s scenic attractions and heritage. The area is strong in biomedicine through its academic institutions and who knows, a rump of the oil industry may linger in the city servicing the petroleum industry globally.

I will make one comment though. The most obvious successor to the oil industry in Aberdeen is the renewable energy sector. Aberdeen’s future as an energy city should be as and energy city. The city already hosts engineering companies and technical knowhow. There is an obvious crossover to be made.

This isn’t the first time that renewables has been promoted for the city and region. We have the Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group (AREG) and more recently the Energetica initiative to establish the Aberdeenshire coastal strip as a corridor for the renewables industry. Neither of these has taken off big time, part of the problem being the high cost bases of the area driven up by the presence of the oil industry.

Nevertheless, the recent oil price crash has focussed attention on the need to diversify the Aberdeen economy. The politicians need to push and push until this happens with absolute determination and drive. It will take government money, but for Aberdeen, the turbo-charged motor of the UK economy for the last 40 years, it’s payback time.

Mike Shepherd is author of Oil Strike North Sea, a history of North Sea oil. Join him in an upcoming session to discuss the impact of the oil industry on our shores:
March 17th 5-6pm – Blackwell’s Book Shop, High Street, Old Aberdeen. 5-6pm. Free, but please reserve a place by phoning 01224 486102 or emailing erin.matheson@blackwell.co.uk.

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Mar 032016

Part Three: The Scrapheap Challenge. By Mike Shepherd


Aberdeen Harbour. Picture: Mike Shepherd

A huge industrial undertaking is about to take place off the Scottish coast involving billions of pounds of expenditure; this is decommissioning.
As a result of an international convention for the NE Atlantic area, oil companies are obliged to remove most of the offshore infrastructure, including oil platforms and pipelines, once oil and gas production operations have ceased.

The scrap material will be brought onshore and disposed off accordingly. It will not be allowed to remain in place offshore unless there are good reasons to do so.

The scale of this operation is massive. Once the last drop of oil has been produced, it will have involved the dismantling of about 475 offshore installations, 10,000 kilometres of pipeline and 15 onshore oil and gas terminals. According to the industry body Oil and Gas UK (OGUK) decommissioning will entail £55 billion of expenditure by 2050.

Let’s repeat that figure again – an industry that will spend £55 billion (and that’s probably an underestimate) is about to hit our shores big time. The coastal cities and towns of the UK and Norway will provide the bases for this undertaking. Some of it has already happened, three of the Brent field platforms are being decommissioned, although the activity has been relatively small-scale to date.

Given the currently low oil price, it’s possible that the volume of work involved could increase substantially from now on. OGUK have predicted that 79 oil and gas platforms could be abandoned by 2024; another estimate puts this figure as high as 146 out of the 300 platforms standing in the North Sea in a similar time scale.

The world of business is acutely aware of the opportunities involved and we may be on the cusp of a feeding frenzy as companies pile in to grab what is a large and guaranteed pot of cash. The big attraction for business in getting involved with decommissioning is that it is a major growth area. Not only is there an enormous amount of guaranteed work coming up; new technologies will need to be developed given the challenges involved.

Other offshore areas in the world will eventually become the focus of decommissioning and this provides the potential for any single company to become a major internationally-established corporation worth billions on the back of gaining experience in the North Sea. The prize is enormous.

Even at this early stage it’s possible to identify trends likely to transform into future newspaper headlines. You heard them here first.

aa66The Aberdeen versus Dundee rivalry over the spoils from North Sea oil has revived. Dundee has never particularly prospered from oil and gas and this is a source of discontent for the Tayside city.

Dundee is now repositioning itself to become a major centre for decommissioning. Forth Ports, owned by a private equity company, are spending £10 million on upgrading the eastern end of Dundee harbour for decommissioning and offshore wind projects.

Aberdeen Harbour Board, not wishing to lose out on a vitally important industry at a time when the oil companies will be finally leaving the city, intends to turn Nigg Bay into a deep-water harbour.

According to the details given with the Aberdeen City Deal this will enable Aberdeen to compete for decommissioning work.

The development of Nigg Bay is controversial; local residents have been less than impressed with pictorial representations of the future development, complete with cruise ships and the surrounding open green space shown rather improbably as being left intact. The business behemoth of decommissioning will be very difficult to stop however.

One other area that could fill future headlines is the scale of the government involvement. The government are committed to a part-funding of decommissioning through tax breaks although the legislation is complex and it is not clear as to how much money is involved. The Guardian reckons the percentage tax relief is between 50 and 75 per cent of the total expenditure.

OGUK have recently quoted an estimate that the taxpayer will be providing £16 billion for decommissioning work by 2050 although this figure looks on the low side. The tax breaks will prove a major future liability for the UK government (or a Scottish government should independence come).

One question begs to be asked. What happens if an oil company goes bust and it doesn’t have any money to pay for decommissioning? I would anticipate there are contingency plans for this situation, although I suspect it’s a hyper-sensitive issue in government circles. The issue dogs open-cast mining operations in the Central Belt of Scotland and in Wales where several mine operators have folded before the reinstatement of the land could happen.

The legal and practical issues involved have proved to be a nightmare.

There are also the environmental implications. The Aberdeen Voice has already been at the forefront of highlighting pollution problems caused by the dumping of material from North Sea oil operations. http://aberdeenvoice.com/2014/04/bleak-day-blackdog-beach/

It will be important to ensure that future decommissioning work is carried out in an environmentally circumspect manner and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency will have much work on its hands to monitor all of this.

Big money will come to the Scottish coastal cities and towns over the next few decades from decommissioning. Aberdeen will get a share of some of this work, although it remains to be seen whether the city can chase off the challenge from Dundee to become a potential national centre for the decommissioning industry. It’s the scrapheap challenge.

Next week – the final part of the series: The long-term future for Aberdeen.

Mike Shepherd is author of Oil Strike North Sea, a history of North Sea oil. Join him in two upcoming sessions to discuss the impact of the oil industry on our shores:

March 9th 6.30 – 8pm – Aberdeen Central Library. Free, but booking essential. Contact the library on 01224 – 652500 or email Libraryevents@aberdeencity.gov.uk
March 17th 5-6pm – Blackwell’s Book Shop, High Street, Old Aberdeen. 5-6pm. Free, but please reserve a place by phoning 01224 486102 or emailing erin.matheson@blackwell.co.uk.

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Feb 252016

1Part Two: On Life Support. By Mike Shepherd

With oil at about $33 a barrel the Aberdeen economy is suffering. The anecdotes abound: For example, the taxi driver who tells you that his takings are down by 50% and that his last fare on a business visit to the city had been the sole occupant of the hotel.

Aberdeen has become largely dependent on oil over the years. There had been other industries in the city, fishing, shipbuilding, papermaking, textiles and tourism amongst others, but they all declined or disappeared.

Here’s an anecdote that illustrates this only too well. When I attended my children’s prize-giving ceremony at Harlaw Academy in 1998, the invited speaker was the manager of the John Lewis store in the city centre.

The theme of his talk was local job prospects, particularly oil. He mentioned in passing that the store’s annual profits closely tracked the oil price, year in, year out. By 1998, the industry had come to dominate the Aberdeen economy.

The Aberdeen economy now lacks any significant diversity, something all too apparent now that the oil price has crashed. Recent discussions have focussed on expanding the local economy by encouraging the development of biopharmaceuticals and agrifood industries.

A similar weakness has been identified in Norway with its dependence on oil. The BBC recently reported that the Norwegians are seeking to diversify with potential growth in aluminium, healthcare, farming and fisheries (it was noted that the shop price of a 4.5kg salmon shops is currently worth more than a barrel of oil).

Nevertheless, Aberdeen will probably tough things out until the oil industry revives. Let’s put a caveat on that – should the current slump last not much longer than one to two years.

The key feature to emphasize is that oil is of enormous strategic importance to the national economy, both in the UK and Scotland, and more than just its massive tax-raising boost. Whereas, the country’s power generation may be satisfied by Chinese nuclear energy, even renewables, oil is needed for transport and is irreplaceable for the purpose until alternatives such as hydrogen fuel cells and electrification of the transport grid comes to the fore (the green initiative is to be applauded but it hasn’t happened big time yet).

The need to import oil can cripple a weak economy as was all too apparent in 1973 when the oil price quadrupled at a time when the UK economy was in trouble. The lessons of the 70s hopefully have not been lost on government officials. The UK economy is not exactly rosy today either, and it would be wise not to have to import all the country’s fuel at a high oil price once the upturn comes.

A significant rise in the oil price could easily happen in the medium term. Oil price crashes result in a drastic cut in oil company investment, typically on projects which have a lead time of several years. When energy demand increases, an adequate supply is not then available and the price can rocket.

there is a large and very experienced oil and gas skill pool in the city

Thus the UK government is aware of the need to support the North Sea oil industry by cutting its taxes on oil production and is likely to continue doing so in the short to medium term. In the long term, the large tax revenues will eventually return.

Another factor concentrates the UK government’s collective mind here, the vast cost of abandoning North Sea oil and gas infrastructure.

Oil companies are required by international agreement to remove most of the offshore infrastructure; mainly oil platforms and pipelines. The government will be responsible for funding part of the costs, an estimated £16 billion out of £55 million in total by 2050.

Given current government spending constraints, they will want to postpone the expenditure for as long as possible. Unlike say coal or steel, leaving the oil industry to die bites the government where it hurts.

It is vital to keep some sort of oil industry present in the Aberdeen area to form the basis for reviving the industry in the future. A vast infrastructure of platforms, pipelines and terminals are already in place. If this goes, the industry goes and is unlikely to come back. Certain key fields act as hubs with their pipeline links for transporting oil onshore. These matter to the future of exploration of new oil in the North Sea.

New oil finds are typically small and would probably not be economic without an existing infrastructure in place. The longer the infrastructure is kept in place, the higher the oil recovery will be from the North Sea. Another key feature of the Aberdeen area is that there is a large and very experienced oil and gas skill pool in the city. They should be encouraged to stay here for as long as possible or else they will drift off and find alternative careers.

A city deal was announced for Aberdeen at the end of January this year. It’s an investment package of £250 million jointly provided by the UK and Scottish governments. The money will be used to expand Aberdeen harbour by building an extension at the Bay of Nigg, to improve digital connectivity, and to fund an energy innovation centre. The intent of the centre is to work with small and medium-sized businesses to develop new technology in the oil and gas sector.

There is also a proposal on the table to build a new energy centre at Aberdeen University. The benefit of such a centre is tangible. The recovery of oil from the North Sea is top in class, many new technologies have been developed here and the rest of the industry sees the North Sea efforts as an exemplar to copy. If and when the upturn happens, the industry will require a large number of trained engineers and geoscientists to cope with projects that have become economic again.

In parallel, the Scottish government announced that it would provide funding to improve the rail links on the east coast. A major issue is the journey times north of Dundee where a single-track stretch of railway at Montrose causes a bottleneck. There have been plans to remove this problem for years although it is yet to come to fruition. The work should now start in five to ten years time. It is to be hoped that the Scottish government will finally honour this pledge.

A major issue for the future of Aberdeen is its poor transport links with the rest of the UK given its relatively remote location. Unless these are improved substantially, Aberdeen’s prospects for an economic future after oil are somewhat limited.

The North Sea oil industry is therefore on life support and the patient is critical but not necessarily croaking. Aberdeen should survive as an energy city going forward providing the downturn in the oil price doesn’t persist too long and the tax breaks come.

Next week, we start to look at the long term future beyond oil; starting with what I call the scrapheap challenge: the decommissioning of North Sea oil infrastructure.

Mike Shepherd is author of Oil Strike North Sea, a history of North Sea oil. Join him in two upcoming sessions to discuss the impact of the oil industry on our shores:

March 9th 6.30 – 8pm – Aberdeen Central Library. Free, but booking essential. Contact the library on 01224 – 652500 or email Libraryevents@aberdeencity.gov.uk
March 17th 5-6pm – Blackwell’s Book Shop, High Street, Old Aberdeen. 5-6pm. Free, but please reserve a place by phoning 01224 486102 or emailing erin.matheson@blackwell.co.uk.

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Feb 192016

Part One: The global oil price crash. By Mike Shepherd

02 The oil price has crashed and many are losing their jobs in Aberdeen. As I write, a barrel of Brent crude can be bought for $33, much cheaper than only two years ago when the oil price was over
At $33 it is difficult to make a profit out of North Sea fields, the costs are too high.

Almost 40 per cent of North Sea fields now make no money and the rest are not giving anything like the financial returns that were seen two years ago. 

Expenditure is being cut to a minimum and there is little new exploration going on. The result has been a loss of almost 10,000 jobs from the North Sea oil and gas sector.

With numbers like these, the future looks gloomy for both North Sea oil and Aberdeen. In a series of articles for Aberdeen Voice, I intend to set out the background to the current situation and to speculate as to what might be the future for North Sea oil and Aberdeen in particular.

This first article explains why the oil price has crashed. Oil is a cyclical commodity prone to booms and busts. It hadn’t always been like this. From the end of the Second World War to 1973, the oil price had been kept at a low and stable level, about $2-3 barrel (and equivalent to $20-25 at today’s prices). A small number of oil companies controlled global production and it was this that ensured both oil price stability and steady profits for the companies involved.

A Middle East war in 1973 changed everything. This was when OPEC, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, came to assert themselves. The result was an immediate oil-price hike and a greater degree of price instability as control over production became much more widely dispersed. OPEC would find it difficult to maintain discipline amongst its member countries.

Previous oil price crashes occurred in 1986 and later in 1999. The 1986 crash was brutal in Aberdeen, for example it saw unemployment hit a peak of 81% in the Bridge of Don area. The causes of the recent crashes have been similar – increased production by a small number of oil exporting countries and reluctance by OPEC, Saudi Arabia in particular, to maintain the oil price by cutting production. There has been a will by the Saudis to maintain OPEC market share despite the resulting loss in revenue.

The current oil price crash has been provoked to a greater extent by the success of oil shale production in the United States (fracking) and a reduced need to import oil from outside the country. The United States is a major consumer of the world’s oil.

I often get asked, ‘how long will the oil price stay this low?’ To which the answer is, ‘I don’t know.’ It’s too complex an issue to call. On the one hand, the world population is increasing at a rate of 230,000 extra humans a day. Not only that, the world is becoming more middle class, less so in the west, more so in China and India, where a sizable population are aspiring to a western lifestyle involving big cars and overseas travel. This creates long-term pressure on the demand for oil, and oil is essentially a finite resource.

On the debit side, we will see more oil production from Libya and Iran, while China’s economy is stumbling with potential knock-on effects for the global economy. The Chinese themselves are now becoming acutely aware of the health problems being caused by severe pollution in their big cities. In response, they are restricting car use and taking an interest in fuel efficiencies.

Add into the mix, the recent Paris agreement on climate change – a commitment to limit a global increase in temperature to well below 2oC by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, principally from the use of hydrocarbons. Global warming is a major challenge for humans, and in combination with massive human population increase, an environmental disaster is looming if nothing is done. Yet, here’s a major flaw in the good intentions set out in Paris last December.

What do you do about transport? The world currently needs oil to move people and goods around. Over half the world’s population now live in urban areas and they depend on their transport networks for food and basic commodities: They would starve otherwise.

The alternative is to electrify the transport networks in cities and to promote hydrogen fuel cells. This will be vastly expensive at a time when world-wide public debt is nearing unsustainable levels and in any case, it will take years to implement. Meanwhile, we will have to depend on oil until a concerted political effort solves this particular problem.

So how long will the oil price stay low? It could be as much as fifteen years as was the case with the 1986 crash (which sort of melded with the 1999 crash). Nobody in Aberdeen wants to hear that, but it’s possible. I suspect the time frame could be much shorter – the long-term pressures on oil demand will not go away and the oil price could feasibly start climbing again within the next year or two.

This is a common belief in the industry. Nevertheless, the reality of the situation is that nobody really knows. And if you did, you would make a fortune.

In the next article, I will focus on the impact of low oil prices on the Aberdeen area in more detail and will speculate on the short – term implications for North Sea oil.

Mike Shepherd is author of Oil Strike North Sea, a history of North Sea oil. Join him in two upcoming sessions to discuss the impact of the oil industry on our shores:

March 9th 6.30 – 8pm – Aberdeen Central Library. Free, but booking essential. Contact the library on 01224 – 652500 or email Libraryevents@aberdeencity.gov.uk
March 17th 5-6pm – Blackwell’s Book Shop, High Street, Old Aberdeen. 5-6pm. Free, but please reserve a place by phoning 01224 486102 or emailing erin.matheson@blackwell.co.uk.

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Jan 212016

Scottish Grocers' Federation, Pete CheemaWith thanks to Sarah Masson.

Independent retailers have welcomed the support shown for their industry from Christian Allard, MSP. The North East MSP attended Scottish Grocers’ Federation’s event at the Scottish Parliament to coincide with the publication of their Scottish Local Shop Report 2015.

The report highlights the value of local independent convenience stores to communities with 87% of retailers currently involved in community activities.

The report also illustrates that there are more convenience stores per head of population in Scotland than there are in the rest of the UK and that convenience stores provide over 44,000 jobs, including valuable services such as post offices, bill payment services and ATMs.

The SNP MSP has always backed local businesses – acknowledging their importance to local economies throughout Scotland today. The North East MSP has praised the community value of local shops, recognising that they support local producers as:

“they make Scottish products accessible for everyone buy, eat and trust local.”

Scottish Grocers’ Federation Chief Executive Pete Cheema said,

“We were delighted that Christian Allard was able to join us at our event. The support of MSPs is vital in ensuring a prosperous and sustainable independent convenience store industry in Scotland.”

Commenting Christian Allard said:

“It is important that we recognise and support local businesses in our communities especially because local shops tend to be resilient to economic changes.

“Local stores are a large part of what our communities are made up of and this report provides the evidence that clearly shows the community value of local convenience stores in Scotland.

“The report crucially looks at the active role that local stores play in both urban and rural communities. They are constantly evolving and changing to meet the many needs of the people they serve. The independent corner shop is as much a part of the past and present as it is the future.”


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[Aberdeen Voice accepts and welcomes contributions from all sides/angles pertaining to any issue. Views and opinions expressed in any article are entirely those of the writer/contributor, and inclusion in our publication does not constitute support or endorsement of these by Aberdeen Voice as an organisation or any of its team members.]

Nov 162015

ChildHopePeruWith thanks to Esther Green, Tricker PR.

Aberdeen Asset Management Charitable Foundation has selected ChildHope as its fourth emerging markets charity partner.

The Foundation has made a three year commitment, with an initial six-figure donation, to ChildHope.

ChildHope was established in 1989 and grew out of the recognition of the huge and growing but neglected problem of children living and working on the streets of Africa, Asia and South America.

Over the last twenty years, the charity has been working to develop long lasting solutions aimed at tackling the root causes of the poverty and the injustice faced by children around the world.

Aberdeen’s support will focus on the regions immediately surrounding Lima, Peru where despite rapid economic development within the city, around a third of children live on less than $2 a day.

Many of these children are subject to violence in schools, where despite national policy, they are often chastised by teachers using sticks, belts or ropes. The project aims to create safer school environments in eight schools. It will identify those children within the schools that are most at risk of educational underachievement and support them with additional supportive educational sessions.

In total, the project is estimated to benefit 7,300 children who will pass through these schools over the term of Aberdeen’s partnership, as well as having associated impact on 400 teachers and 4,500 parents.

Anne Richards, Chief Investment Officer of Aberdeen Asset Management and Chairman of the Foundation, comments:

“Aberdeen has a significant presence in Latin America and so I am delighted that employees globally have chosen to support ChildHope. Education plays a crucial role in the development of society so the charity will have an impact not only on the children but the country as a whole.”

ChildHope UK’s Executive Director Jill Healey said:

“We are absolutely thrilled to have been selected as Aberdeen Asset Management’s next emerging markets charity partner. By working together we can fundamentality transform the lives of some of the most vulnerable children in Peru and give them a chance for a better future.’’

ChildHope becomes the fourth emerging markets charity partner to be supported by the Foundation, alongside ABC Trust, SeeBeyondBorders and AfriKids.

The Aberdeen Asset Management Charitable Foundation was established in 2012 to formalise and develop Aberdeen’s charitable giving strategy. It has two main themes:

Emerging Markets – Aberdeen has committed to develop a number of strategic partnerships with charities tackling the educational needs of disadvantaged young people in emerging markets. Each year, an emerging market is selected by the Foundation’s Board and employees have the opportunity to vote for a project in that country which will receive support for a three year period.

Local Communities – To complement this international focus, each Aberdeen office around the world has established its own charity committee, whose remit is to manage local giving activities and to promote volunteering.

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Nov 122015

Eilidh WhitefordWith thanks to Kenneth Hutchison, Parliamentary Assistant to Dr. Eilidh Whiteford MP

Following the debate on the Scotland Bill at Westminster, the SNP are calling for clarification over the Secretary of State David Mundell’s failure to guarantee that there would be no claw back of payments made by the Scottish Government to mitigate welfare cuts.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP, SNP Social Justice and Welfare spokesperson commented:

“Following tonight’s debate  we need absolute clarity from the  UK  Government  that if the Scottish Government tops up  a benefit it will not be clawed back by Westminster  – David Mundell failed to answer that.

“For that and many other reasons tonight will be a huge disappointment to all those people watching and hoping for the Vow to be delivered.

“Whilst I welcome the changes the Government is belatedly bringing forward, all the flowery rhetoric in the world won’t hide the fact that this Scotland Bill still falls some way short of the Smith Commission proposals. More than that, still falls a long way short of the promises made to the people of Scotland.

“The SNP amendments in this Group would have significantly strengthen the Bill, and brought it closer to the expectations and aspirations of the people who voted in unprecedented numbers for real powers and meaningful change. As things stand, it will be those on low and average incomes, especially families with children, who will pay the price of these missed opportunities.’’

Commenting on this evening’s debate  – SNP Leader at Westminster – Angus Robertson MP said:

“The sole purpose of the Scotland Bill has been to implement the Smith Commission in full.  We welcome the government’s late admission that it had failed to do that but this bill still falls far short.

“We have seen with this debate a Westminster failure to support the devolution of powers over tax credits – industrial relations and workers’ rights powers and on the sovereignty of the people of Scotland.

“People should look and learn because if this is the way to bring forward legislation – we don’t need it. The Scottish parliament is a 21st century parliament and if ever there was a case put for the Scottish parliament being able to exercise all issues that matter to the people of Scotland – this was it.”

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Sep 072015

Oil Strike cover By Mike Shepherd.

This month marks the 40th anniversary of first oil from the Forties field in September 1975.

A quick search of the internet and you will find photographs of the Queen inaugurating the Forties field on the 3rd November 1975. But don’t tell her majesty, the Forties field was already in operation by that time.

It wasn’t quite the first oil on stream from the UK side; the Argyll field had been producing since June that year, but given the scale of the Forties development, it was a major event.

The Forties field figures prominently in my new book Oil Strike North Sea which is out next week.

In terms of reserves it is the largest field in the UK North Sea and deserves attention for that alone; but not only that, I was to take a prominent role in its development and this allows me to give a first-hand account of what it takes to operate a North Sea field.

Between 1981 and 1986, I was responsible from the geology side in planning a large number of wells in the oil field. I worked both onshore and offshore. After planning the wells in British Petroleum’s (BP) office in Dyce, working closely with the drilling engineers, I would then go offshore to monitor the reservoir section. Amongst other responsibilities, I would tell the drillers when to stop once we were below the oil pay.

The Forties field wasn’t the first commercial oil field discovered on the UK side, that honour goes to Amoco’s Montrose field which was discovered in 1969. When Amoco discovered oil in the first well, the offshore personnel were astonished. They were looking for gas and had no idea that there was oil in the North Sea. Other companies had come across oil shows in wells before, but had kept this highly secret.

There were no sample jars for oil on the rig, so the first sample of commercial oil in the North Sea was brought onshore in a pickle jar that had been grabbed from the rig’s galley.

Amoco had hired the Sea Quest drilling rig from BP to drill the well and handed it back afterwards. The BP geologists were rather surprised to find that a copy of a log showing that oil had been found had arrived with the rig. It had been accidently left on board.

BP had identified the Forties prospect on their seismic data, a massive dome covering 90 square kilometres. It looked enormous and the unintended gift from Amoco gave them comfort that there could be an oil field there.

Yet the BP management had been most reluctant to drill the prospect and for good reasons too; the oil price had been low since 1950 as a result of the large-scale production from the Middle East and North Africa, and a large offshore field requiring very expensive infrastructure could not be assured to make a profit. On top of that, the engineering capability of providing the infrastructure was an unknown, the oil companies had never ventured into such deep and stormy waters.

One of the reasons BP drilled the discovery well was out of desperation. BP had been thrown out of several countries after the oil had been nationalised and the future of the company was somewhat uncertain at the time. It was only with the Yom Kippur war in 1973, when the oil price quadrupled on the back of OPEC sanctions, was it likely that the North Sea would be a profitable concern.

The Forties field is still producing after forty years, with over 2.7 billion barrels of oil recovered. The current operator Apache is still actively chasing the remaining oil in the field by drilling new wells. The Forties field, like many other fields in the North Sea had not been expected to have produced for as long as they have. It’s a testament to the amazing skills developed in the North Sea that our fields have recovered so much oil.

The book launch for Oil Strike North Sea is at Waterstones in Union Street on Wednesday 9th September at 7pm, all are welcome.

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Jul 162015
Christian Allard at Instant Neighbour foodbank

Christian Allard MSP at Instant Neighbour Foodbank, Aberdeen

With thanks to Lee Robb, Caseworker to Christian Allard MSP.

North East MSP, Christian Allard, has welcomed the news that Aberdeenshire is ahead of Scotland’s capital city in terms of average disposable income. However, the SNP MSP warns that a rising number of foodbanks in the region indicates that many families are being left behind.

This comes in response to a recently released study conducted by SPICE (Scottish Parliament Information Centre) that reviewed levels of average disposable income in areas of Scotland, compared to the UK average.

The SPICE study reports on figures from 2013 and showed Scotland’s average disposable income to be at £17,039 – compared to the UK average of £17,599.

Commenting on the findings, Mr. Allard said:

“The good news is that people are prospering here in the North East. However, it cannot be ignored that there has been a rise in foodbanks in Aberdeenshire over the past few years.

“This is a clear indication that there is an imbalance of wealth and opportunity, leaving families behind to rely on charitable food parcels.

“This, in the most affluent area of the country, is frankly unacceptable. This year, we saw an Aberdeen-based foodbank running out of food!”

Aberdeen’s Instant Neighbour foodbank appealed for help in March after running out of supplies and having to turn away families. Mr. Allard has volunteered with local foodbank collections in Aberdeenshire, the latest one being at the beginning of this month.

“People in Aberdeenshire know the problems that some families face. Unrelenting cuts to basic welfare needs have meant that families cannot sustain themselves. It was incredibly touching to see such a great contribution from the local community to Inverurie Tesco’s push for foodbank donations.

“I would like to congratulate the local Tesco store for their efforts, and thank all those who donated to this cause.”

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