Third of North Sea oil and gas firms plan further job cuts after prices slump

A third of the UK's oil and gas firms are planning further job cuts this year as a result of a slump in prices, according to a new survey.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 6th June 2016, 8:48 am
Updated Monday, 6th June 2016, 10:38 am

The latest Bank of Scotland report on the industry found 43% of companies are planning further cost-cutting measures because of the downturn, with 32% of businesses planning to cut jobs.

Scottish firms have been particularly badly hit by falls in oil prices, with 57% recording their business has been severely or quite badly affected against a UK-wide average of 41%.

Of the 141 companies questioned for the report, 58% have had to introduce efficiency measures or cut costs over the last 12 months while for 51% this has involved making redundancies.

In Scotland, 63% of businesses reduced their workforce compared to an average of 42% across firms surveyed in England and Wales.

Despite the slump, more than a fifth of businesses are still looking at North Sea expansion opportunities.

The report found expansion was being "entirely driven by smaller and mid-sized companies who find it much easier to diversify and embrace new technology" while none of the larger firms surveyed have planned any North Sea growth.

Just over two-thirds, or 67%, of firms are looking at international opportunities, down on 91% last year, largely driven by a considerable drop in interest in North America and the Middle East.

Meanwhile, 26% of firms surveyed said they had grown through the downturn by diversifying into new sectors and investing in new technology.

Two-fifths of businesses began to diversify their operations last year and this is set to continue in 2016.

The survey indicated firms' plans for diversification have shifted, with only 31% now giving a high priority to onshore shale gas - extracted from the ground by the controversial fracking method - compared to 47% last year.

Mid-sized firms' interest in renewables has increased, rising from 46% in 2015 to 57% in 2016, while the majority of large firms see decommissioning as a major diversification opportunity.

Asked when they expect oil prices to recover, 33% of firms stated it would be 2018 before the price of Brent crude oil reaches 75 to 80 US dollars (£52 to £55) a barrel while 38% believed the rise would happen no sooner than 2020.

Stuart White, of Bank of Scotland, said: "With oil prices currently hovering around the 50-dollar (£34) mark there is hope that prices have bottomed out and have begun to slowly and modestly recover.

"Many businesses however, undoubtedly face more difficult decisions on cost savings, jobs and investment.

"While the blow from depressed oil prices has been severe for many businesses and individuals impacted by job losses, the sector is proving itself to be among one of the most resilient industries in the UK."

Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour's economy spokeswoman, said: "These figures underline the devastating impact the oil crisis has had on workers in the North East and right across the supply chain.

"Scotland's oil and gas industry can have a bright future if proper steps are taken to identify and protect assets, that is why Labour called for the creation of a new public body to do just that.

"The reality is the SNP ignored the oil jobs crisis for months because it was politically embarrassing for them. We need to see much more regular reporting of the impact of the changing oil price on jobs and the economy. "

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "While prices have recovered somewhat in recent months, and sentiment is improving somewhat as a consequence, this is a difficult time for the industry and the workforce.

"However, important steps are under way on the part of employers to adapt to the current low oil price environment. The Scottish Government recognises the need for collaborative action and is engaging closely with the industry, trade unions and regulator to overcome the current challenges and secure a long term future for the sector.

"Efficiency initiatives are starting to produce results; for example, a considerable effort from industry to improve production efficiency has led to an increase in annual production for the first time in 15 years, and we are aware of some good practice by employers working in partnership with their workers to reduce inefficiencies while protecting and enhancing health and safety.

"As this report notes, more than a fifth of businesses are still looking at North Sea expansion opportunities and a quarter of the firms surveyed had grown through the downturn through diversifying into new sectors and investing in new technology.

"The Energy Jobs Taskforce is also working with industry partners to help the supply chain react to the current challenges in the industry; indeed, the Cabinet Secretary and minister received positive feedback on the work of the taskforce on Friday during their trip to Aberdeen and heard its work is crucial to ensuring the sector comes through the challenges it faces.

"The Scottish Government is focused on creating a competitive and supportive business environment and promoting innovation throughout the supply chain; however, the UK Government retains control of the key taxation levers affecting the sector, and must take the action needed to protect jobs and, hence, we will seek to engage constructively with them, to that end."