The North East of Scotland’s economy has been heavily reliant upon the Oil and Gas industry for 50 years, but with the recent downturn, coupled with new opportunities associated with technological advancement, there is a growing desire to diversify the North Eastern economy.
Rebalancing the region’s economy and promoting a resilient and diverse industry base was the focus of the latest vanguard legacy discussion panel, entitled Reinvigorating the North East, Shaping the Future Economy.
The panel were:
- Jackie Doyle, Director, Oil & Gas and Digital Development, Opportunity North East
- Dr. Deborah O’Neil, Chief Executive & Scientific Officer, Novabiotics
- David Millar, Technology Accelerator Director, The Oil & Gas Technology Centre
- Shona Tennant, Associate in the Commercial Services Division, Brodies LLP
Alongside Oil and Gas, three sectors have been identified as having specific opportunity: Life Sciences, Tourism and Food and Drink. Additionally, technology orientated start-ups across all industries are also something that the area is keen to encourage.
In recent years there has been a concerted effort to co-ordinate stakeholders in working to this common goal. Instrumental to this plan are Opportunity North East and the Oil & Gas Technology Centre. Speaking on the panel Jackie Doyle, Director, Opportunity North East explained the key aims of the ONE programme and the NE strategy: “The end modus operandi is creating economic value. Whether that’s jobs, business, products etc. We recognise Oil and Gas is a key strength alongside food and drink, Life Sciences, tourism, professional services… We want to ensure that there is a structure in place to allow the innovation and technology to come through.”
Whilst there is a concerted push to diversify the economy and support the growth in these areas, the Oil and Gas industry will remain vital, and stakeholders are keen to maximise the recovery from the North Sea Continental Shelf whilst also developing exportable expertise.
Technology is seen as one of the key drivers in maximising recovery and value. This was a key part of the reasoning for the creation of the The Oil & Gas Technology Centre, which is designed to act as a link between academia and industry and help to catalyse innovation.
David Millar, Technology Accelerator Director, OGTC explained the enormous impact of tech on business: “We’ve seen over the last 30 years the exponential growth of technology across both consumer and industrial markets and they’ve changed the way we live and work to unprecedented levels. CEO’s now say that the speed of change and disruption in their markets is one of their biggest concerns going forward.”
Responding to change
There was a lot of discussion about the need to constantly innovate and reinvent to stay ahead of the curve. Dr. Deborah O’Neil, Chief Executive at Novabiotics explained that this shift was going to fundamentally change the way business value is perceived: “Business is going to change in the future because new innovation and technology aren’t necessarily coming from the business with large footprints that employ a lot of people, its more about the intellectual capital that your sat on. It’s a very different way of identifying value.”
One of the key aspects of promoting greater innovation within the region was the need to attract and support entrepreneurs. It was identified that Aberdeen and the NE was not previously well geared for start-up success, but that with the Elevator accelerator now well established and more co-ordinated support, this was something which was going to improve.
Whilst new investment and improved coordination has laid the foundations for progress, there are a number of other challenges raised by the panel. Infrastructure and connectivity was still perceived to be a barrier for some businesses, both in terms of digital infrastructure and physical office space.
Talent was also perceived to be a crucial issue. Attracting senior management to certain sectors was said to be problematic: it was flagged that Scottish Life Science companies often have the board based down in England for this reason. At the other end of the career ladder the were other issues, with awareness of jobs and opportunities amongst young people seen as a challenge. Many young people have seen friends and family lose jobs and need to relocate, so they need to be made aware that there is going to be employment available in the region.
There is also an understanding of the need to respond to generational changes and provide opportunities that will keep talented young people in the area. The panel discussed the fact that priorities and expectations have changed, and increasingly financial motivation can be secondary to doing work that people value or find interesting.
Despite the challenges, there was a feeling of optimism and a confidence from the panel, and an underlying belief that the NE can reassert itself as “an innovation and technology powerhouse.”