Adopting a Renaissance mind set

TWO years ago, the early stages of the oil price downturn sounded an alarm call to the private and public sectors.

Our region was in danger of sleepwalking towards a future where North Sea oil and gas activity declined leaving us vulnerable with insufficient focus on the wider economy.

There are two contrasting visions for our future.

The first is Renaissance, which will require planning and investment to stimulate, diversify and broaden our business base to reduce the dependence on North Sea oil.

The second is that we don’t plan and invest ahead and in 30 to 40 years end up as a museum for the oil and gas era.

The Renaissance scenario will only be achieved by the private and public sectors working together and staying focused on the long term goal.

Opportunity North East (ONE) is committed to the Renaissance.

This will involve maximising the North Sea oil and gas opportunity; finding ways to maintain offshore oil and gas activities post the North Sea; and broadening the economy with strong sector initiatives in food, drink and agriculture, life sciences and tourism, where we already have major strengths.

Our focus is on investment, action and partnerships to stimulate growth, safeguard jobs and create new employment opportunities.

Our board is private sector led but includes both local authorities, the principals of Robert Gordon University and the University of Aberdeen, and Scottish Enterprise.

We have a small executive team and each of the four sectors has its own board to develop their growth prospects.

We have £25million of our own funding available and anticipate this will at least be matched by other private and public funding sources.

We will make a difference.

The focus on key sectors is already proving successful. The £210million of innovation funding achieved through the Aberdeen City Region Deal (£180million for oil and gas and £30million for food, drink and agriculture and life sciences) was achieved by ONE working closely with Scottish Enterprise, Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Councils and our city’s two universities.

Notwithstanding the very real challenges in the economy, there is genuine cause for optimism for the long term sustainability of our region’s business base.

We are planning for the future from a position of relative strength and there is a vision, in the Regional Economic Strategy, and a passion for what we aim to achieve.

Everyone has their part to play.

The key roles for our local authorities in the renaissance agenda are to significantly expand and update our broadband infrastructure and to ensure that Aberdeen and North-east Scotland is one of the most attractive areas to live and work in the UK.

We’ve had it relatively easy in the last 40 years but we now need to fight to retain the companies we have, attract inward investment and become aggressive and competitively look for diversified activities.

This will only happen if our councils, business and industry interests and other initiatives with similar objectives all adopt the renaissance mind-set and participate accordingly.