North-east communities could soon resemble the “coal mining villages” of the 1980s unless there are preparations for the end of oil and gas, it is feared.
The area has faced a double-whammy after being hit by the coronavirus pandemic, which caused the overall economy of Scotland to shrink by 9.6% in 2020, as well as a fresh downturn in the North Sea industry, which could accelerate its ultimate decline.
Concerns for the future, and the need to transition the economy during the recovery, were raised in focus group research carried out by Survation to help inform our election manifesto.
A poll of 2,047 people, conducted by the firm as part of the same project, also showed that more than a third of Scots listed the economy as one of the most important issues, with only health polling higher.
It was a key issue for men, with 41% naming it as one of their top priorities, compared to 31% of women, and it was also listed by more than 40% of people aged over 45, compared to just 17% for 16 to 24-year-olds.
One of the participants in the focus groups was Jennifer, a 23-year-old graduate from Aberdeenshire who lives with parents and is currently furloughed from her part-time job.
She spoke about her own community, saying “It has a lot of people in the oil and gas industry, and I think if there is a lack of transition to the green sectors, I think a lot of these sectors will go elsewhere.
“That means all these new houses that they have built will lie empty because they will be forced to move to where the jobs are.
“I think it’s something that really needs to be addressed so there are still jobs for people up here and they are not forced to move.
“That would be great because it would be almost like it would end up like a coal mining village, when everyone moves to where the jobs are.”
Oil giants BP and Shell are among those to announce plans to relocate to smaller premises in Aberdeen in recent months.
‘Everything is built on the oil and gas industry’
Susan, who lives on the outskirts of Aberdeen and previously worked for the firm, took part in our focus group research.
“Yeah, that is a concern for jobs etc, because Aberdeen has relied on the oil and gas industry for a long time now,” she said.
“Everything is built on the oil and gas industry. There is still fishing but not like it used to be.
“Whether people will actually, (and) companies, will want to go back into offices or not? I don’t know. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Calum, a 34-year-old from Aberdeen who is a project manager for an oil and gas service company, was one of those who had been working from home during the pandemic.
Aberdeen is very much an oil and gas city, and to help the city, and increase the longevity of the industry, going green is the way forward.”
He said: “I would like to see the oil and gas sector move into renewables.
“Aberdeen is very much an oil and gas city, and to help the city, and increase the longevity of the industry, going green is the way forward.
“Because of the effect of climate change, global companies need to start looking at the environment better.”
As well as oil and gas, hospitality, tourism and retail have been among the sectors to be hardest hit by the pandemic.
With many shoppers moving online, fears have grown that high streets will struggle to recover.
The Press and Journal and Evening Express are backing the calls for action in Aberdeen after John Lewis revealed plans to axe its city store.
Susan said: “The big concern is, when everything opens up, whether people will actually go out shopping again?
“Hopefully they will. I certainly will, I miss the shop; although it’s great to be able to order things online, I prefer going to see things.”
Chinedu, a 39-year-old procurement specialist from Elgin, said: “One thing the government need to look at in coming out of this pandemic in this area is supporting small businesses.
“A lot of locals are out of jobs because some of these companies, or some of these organisations, their work has been affected in one way or another.”
He added: “At the Scottish election, I will be looking out for a party, and a party manifesto, which has a plan for economic revival, especially after this pandemic.”