Plans to transform the North-east economy have been pitched to the Scottish Government minister charged with plotting a post-oil future for the region.

New rail links to Peterhead and Fraserburgh, a film and television hub, a world class hospitality academy and an iconic new tourist attraction were among the ideas shared with Richard Lochhead MSP at an exclusive event organised by Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber members were asked to share ambitious ideas to deliver jobs and prosperity for the area using the Just Transition Fund, a £500million pot of cash earmarked for the North-east and Moray.

Projects to rebuild Scotland’s manufacturing base, electrify offshore power generation and to accelerate the energy skills transition were also suggested as ways for the region to pivot quickly.

Mr Lochhead, the Scottish Government’s first ever Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work, said that Scotland can become one of the world’s leading decarbonised economies, if it gets the transition right.

He told Chamber members that there is “a massive prize to be captured” and Aberdeen and Grampian can be at the forefront of future opportunities.

The 10 ideas…

Ten delegates were invited to make three-minute “soapbox pitches” for how they would like to see the Just Transition Fund spent.

1) Charlotte Hartley (Storegga): Investing in net zero infrastructure

Charlotte concisely highlighted three priority areas for investment which could lower emissions and create jobs: reshoring industry by rebuilding a domestic manufacturing base which would erase a huge chunk of our carbon footprint from imports, insulating buildings and investing in net zero infrastructure including carbon capture.

2) Frank Whitaker (Aberdeen City & Shire Hotels Association): A world class hospitality academy

Frank briefly summarised some major challenges in the hospitality sector, including the fact that people need to perceive careers in the sector as they do in Europe — as long-term, highly skilled professions. He proposed an internationally-focused and renowned hotel sector business school should be established. This will provide training and qualifications and, hopefully, returning students as they advance their careers in hospitality. Frank cited Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne and Cornell University School of Hotel Administration as world-class examples which Aberdeen should follow.

3) Mark Dixon (Cerulean Winds): Decarbonising oil & gas

Mark Dixon outlined what support is needed to scale up floating wind. He noted that other opportunities are limited, such as the Scottish National Investment Bank, which invests in supply chain but not in projects themselves. The Just Transition Fund should invest in the projects themselves, creating a multiplier effect and thereby recycling more money back into the fund for other investments. Powering offshore platforms with offshore wind could cut emissions by 70% offshore.

4) Graeme Gordon (IFB): A locally-driven 5G roll-out

Graeme talked about wider government priorities such as the future of spaces and places and ensuring they are attractive and connected for a whole range of business and pleasure priorities. His pitch centred on taking the digital skills of SMEs in the Aberdeen area and channelling them into a successful rollout of 5G. He stressed the merits of this model in realising best local return and unlocking inward investment for jobs and skills. In short, Aberdeen needs a “digital transition zone” to complement its energy transition zone.

5) Patricia MacLeod (Midas Media): A North-east creative cluster

Aberdeen needs a media hub to be at the forefront of creative industries, which are a burgeoning growth sector for Scotland and the UK more widely. Aberdeen’s universities and college provide competitive, top-quality courses but there are limited work experience options or jobs to match in the local area. Patricia believes Aberdeen could attract television blockbusters to the region with the right imagination and drive.

6) Wyndham Williams (Campaign for North East Rail): Rail to Peterhead & Fraserburgh

A new feasibility study should kick-off a fresh look at the case for rail north of Aberdeen, to Peterhead and Fraserburgh. These are the two towns in the UK furthest from a rail link, and investment would mean lower emissions, faster journey times, huge business opportunities for freight, and even transport of CO2 to St Fergus which could tie in with Acorn development.

7) Moira Gordon (CBRE): Using rates system to regenerate Aberdeen

The business rates system needs further reform and there should be consideration of the effectiveness in targeting of the small business bonus, and whether it in fact leads to unintended consequences. Does it direct help most to those who need it, or is it more a boon for landlords to market properties where the relief applies? A better system could channel business rates back into local high streets, so that the benefits are realised more widely.

8) Paul de Leeuw (NESA): A National Energy Skills Accelerator

A major challenge of transition will be in upskilling the workforce. There is an urgent need to establish a world class National Energy Skills Accelerator to get our workforce leading the way. A new National Energy Skills Accelerator (NESA) is being established in Aberdeen to prepare the workforce for the energy transition and to provide access to new skills and capabilities required for delivering the net zero agenda. Paul explained how the fund could be used to “hit the accelerator on the skills accelerator”.

9) Matt Hazlewood (Aberdeen International Airport): A new route development fund for Aberdeen

Matt explained why in places like Aberdeen, air travel is a necessity, not a luxury. He said the pandemic has left the aviation sector in dire straits, and that Aberdeen has been one of the places hit hardest. He called for some of the fund to be invested in a route development fund to rebuild some of the city’s air connectivity

10) Chris Smith (Vanguard): An iconic tourist attraction for Aberdeen

Chris put forward the idea of creating an iconic tourist attraction in Aberdeen to rival the Kelpies in Falkirk. The Vanguard Group has been progressing plans for an urban cable car connecting the city centre to the beach as a phase one. It could also connect to the new South Harbour as a phase two.

What is the Just Transition Fund?

The £500million Just Transition Fund will be used to accelerate the development of a transformed and decarbonised economy in the North-east and Moray.

The 10-year fund will help create new opportunities for the estimated 70,000 people currently employed in oil and gas, not just in renewables but across all the region’s business sectors.

The Scottish Government wants to co-design the programme with the businesses and people directly impacted by the energy transition. This event will be a key part of that engagement.

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