Diverting energy from the Energy Capital?

by Ken McEwen, Ken McEwen Public Relations

I’m sure I was not the only person who raised at least one eyebrow at the announcement of new Enterprise Areas by the Scottish Government.

It wasn’t the creation of Enterprise Areas that surprised me. It was the fact that an Enterprise Area for Low Carbon and Renewables technologies appeared to very deliberately exclude the established global centre for energy technology – Aberdeen.

In a move reminiscent of the bad old days of locating industries by political expedient, rather than by logic, the Low Carbon and Renewables Enterprise Areas are focussed on the Ports of Dundee and Leith.

Offshore wind turbines

At least the North area appears more logical, centring on the established research facilities in Orkney, former oil industry fabrication facilities in Nigg and Arnish and the obvious Pentland Firth frontline base at Scrabster.

But, the omission of Europe’s Energy Capital from this plan, could hardly be more deliberate.

I remember many years ago, when I worked in regional industrial development with NESDA, we received a call from a journalist demanding to know where in the North East of Scotland we were proposing to try to attract the new Nissan factory that was then looking for a location in the UK.

The journalist simply could not believe it when I told him we had no plans to try to secure the car factory. I patiently explained that the North East of Scotland had no recent history of car manufacturing and it simply would not work.

Diverting energy
A version of this blog was published in the IoD Scotland Magazine Spring 2012

We know what happens when factories are placed on the map to serve political ends, rather than manufacturing logic.

In the 1960s the government persuaded the Rootes Group to set up a factory at Linwood, near Glasgow, to produce the Hillman Imp. It struggled on for 20 years, before the factory was bulldozed. Then there was the aluminium smelter at Invergordon, the pulp mill at Fort William and many other geographical anomalies.

By encouraging businesses in the energy sector to locate away from Aberdeen, I have concerns that the Scottish Government is also forgetting about the ‘hot house’ effect of that results from a conglomeration of similar technology companies concentrated in one area.

Few could deny that it was this ‘hot house’ of marine energy expertise that produced the quite remarkable transition of Aberdeen into a global oil and gas technology hub and an upstream oil and gas centre second only to Houston.

Does that lesson not suggest that energy technology industries should be allowed to settle in its most natural home?

In Scotland, I would suggest that means encouraging (not discouraging) corporate and project operations bases to gravitate to where the marine project expertise and manpower is concentrated. That is, in the Aberdeen area.
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