Scotland politics

Dennis Robertson clarifies 'no North Sea crisis' remarks

Dennis Robertson
Image caption Mr Robertson said there was "no crisis" in North Sea oil employment, which he said was "booming"

An SNP MSP has sought to clarify his comments after claiming there "is no crisis" in North Sea oil and gas employment.

Aberdeenshire West MSP Dennis Robertson said in a Holyrood debate that the workforce was "booming" and "more oil than ever before" had been extracted.

Mr Robertson has now said he "could have expressed myself better".

And he apologised for "any misunderstanding" his remarks may have caused.

In a statement posted on his website, Mr Robertson said the oil and gas sector faced "clear and substantial challenges".

But he said it was important to "recognise the continued potential of the North Sea".

'Spread negativity'

Mr Robertson added that he had heard directly from constituents who had been among the estimated 65,000 people to have lost direct and supply chain jobs related to the North Sea since the beginning of 2014.

But he said: "It is vital that we work to support the industry and ensure that there is a future both for current staff and for those who wish to go into the industry.

"I find it disappointing to hear politicians spread negativity around the industry when all parties should be working together to support it.

"I hope that other parties can join the SNP in pushing the UK government to provide meaningful incentives for exploration in the North Sea, allowing for development of new prospects and ensuring a future for the vital industry and jobs that depend on it."

Mr Robertson made his original remarks after Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale referred to a "crisis" in employment in the North Sea oil and gas sector.

He said: "There is no crisis. We have just actually extracted more oil than ever before in the North Sea. We have the most skilled workforce in the North Sea and it is booming."

'Utter denial'

Ms Dugdale responded: "I think the member's constituents will find that an absolutely astonishing remark, as will the 50,000 people directly employed by the oil industry in Aberdeen and the 50,000 people indirectly related to it in the surrounding areas. That truly is an astonishing remark to start this year."

North East Scotland Labour MSP and former Aberdeen Central representative Lewis Macdonald added that Mr Robertson's comments "show that the SNP remain in complete and utter denial about the oil jobs crisis".

Ms Robertson's remarks were also criticised by unions representing North Sea oil and gas workers.

Responding to his clarification, Liberal Democrat MSP Alison McInnes said: "I am not sure how Dennis Robertson thought that his comments could be misunderstood. His language was crystal clear.

"His climb down is welcome, though it would have been better if these comments had never been made in the first place."

Oil and gas production in the North Sea had fallen every year for 15 years, but on Monday industry body Oil & Gas UK estimated that production rose by 7% during 2015.

However, it said that the industry would be "extremely challenged" to sustain growth in 2016 and warned that further job losses were likely.

The industry has struggled due to a sharp decline in the price of oil, with a barrel now costing just a third of the price 18 months ago.

On Wednesday, Brent crude fell below $35 a barrel for the first time in 11 years before recovering slightly to $35.07.

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