Westminister Comment - Dramatic fall in the crude oil price..

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The dramatic fall in the world crude oil price will be welcomed by motorists and those of us who use it to heat our homes when it feeds through to domestic prices.

In fact, given the link with other prices, the fall will be welcomed by many businesses throughout the country.

The worry that will face the rest of the country is the underlying cause of the price fall. If it is because of new production such as US shale then that is positive economic news. If on the other hand it is because of a downturn in demand by countries like China there will be a worry that the world economy is slipping back. That will put downward pressure on our own economic recovery.

Of course here in the North East it will add to the pressures on our own oil and gas industry which supports so many jobs. The skills and achievements of the industry were on display a week ago Thursday at the annual oil and gas awards. This was an opportunity to recognise how important people are to what has been achieved in the North Sea.

Of course the industry has been around for some time and so many of those who joined up in the early days are nearing retirement. So we need new blood, which is why apprenticeships are so important for the future.

This was very much the theme at the 15th Anniversary of The Upstream Oil & Gas Technician Training Scheme last Thursday. Even with a downturn in price new recruits will be needed because of the industry’s changing age profile and to make sure that we will be ready for the upturn in oil prices.

The added importance of the North East is as a global centre of excellence. To maximise that potential we need to see improvements in infrastructure in the area if companies are going to justify locating here.

Although the oil and gas industry has a long future and an export market to support it, that does not mean the Government does not have a role in setting a tax regime that maximises the attractiveness in developing our remaining reserves. As well as optimising the tax I welcome the establishment of a new authority to bring industry together to make the best of the assets we already have.

Of course the price of oil was an issue in the referendum. Being part of the UK means there are more parts of the economy that will benefit from a low oil price meaning that tax revenues are able to support a loss of oil revenue more easily.

I think it is important for our economic stability that the new First Minister recognises that when the people said no they meant it. No means no. It is important for our economic investment that the original commitment, that the referendum was for once in a generation, is honoured.

Any attempt to rerun the referendum will continue to distract the Scottish Government from concentrating on delivering good services where they already have responsibility. Investors will also face yet more uncertainty. We really need a period of healing and rebuilding after the last referendum.

A more urgent need to transfer power is from the central belt back to the communities that know the needs of their areas. The attempt to arm the police on a routine basis was alien to much of Scotland. Our colleges have lost much of their independence with no allowance to build up a surplus for future investment. Yet another example of creeping centralisation.

Scotland is a diverse nation that cannot be run effectively by diktat from Edinburgh.