Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (PACE)
Dennis Robertson (Aberdeenshire West) (SNP): With partnership action for continuing employment, the partnership aspect is very pertinent. We must look at how we use that partnership within the communities where we live and the constituencies that we represent.
Murdo Fraser raised the important aspect in his speech of the smaller agencies and companies—the small and medium-sized businesses. At the PACE conference in February 2014, Colin Borland from the Federation of Small Businesses mentioned that very area and the individual support that seemed to be lacking for that particular group. I recall that the minister, Fergus Ewing, responded positively to the issue.
The interesting thing about the conference—I think that the title was “A Change of PACE?”—was that it looked at all the aspects of PACE and how it operates in the sector in order to enable early intervention. I concur fully with Mark McDonald: it would be wrong to advertise the early intervention of PACE in a sector or an organisation, because that would undermine the confidence of the area. It is okay to say that PACE is involved once redundancies have been announced and the matter has hit the headlines. However, my understanding is that PACE can be and is involved at an earlier stage. When we are looking at continued employment, we are sometimes looking at preventing the redundancy from happening in the first place. That is about looking at alternative means to secure work for the employee.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the energy sector, given that I represent the Aberdeenshire West constituency. As the minister knows, I often mention Westhill when I am in the chamber because it is Europe’s subsea sector capital.
I welcome Lena Wilson’s appointment to the energy jobs task force. With her expertise and knowledge from Scottish Enterprise, she will fulfil her role remarkably well in reporting back to the minister on her discussions with the energy sector, and specifically those on oil and gas.
We must ensure that we do not create a situation in the sector that does not exist. If we say that there is a crisis in the sector, our young people going to college or university or our graduates looking for a future in oil and gas may look instead at alternatives for their education and training. We cannot afford for that to happen.
We have a well-recognised skills shortage in the industry. If we continue to highlight that there is a problem in the sector, it is only right that our young people will start looking at alternatives. I suggest to the sector that we ensure that there is a very positive message out there about there being a future in the energy sector. We must get the balance right. We must ensure that those coming through the college sector have the prospect of employment and that those graduating from the university sector have an opportunity, too.
We cannot and do not control the oil price, but we can control the message that we portray about the sector to our young workforce. The PACE initiative is important in that regard. It is important that our young people have appropriate skills. SDS provides a great opportunity to upskill some of our young people or those who have been made redundant. Those people should be given the opportunity not to deskill but to upskill with new skills to make them more employable in the sector, because the sector will need them.
What can be done? I take on board Murdo Fraser’s comments about Sir Ian Wood. However, I say to Murdo Fraser that I have heard it said on more than one occasion—and I think that this is still the case—that the oil and gas sector is seeking stability in its taxation. The sector is looking for a reversal of the tax hike that happened in 2011. It is looking for incentives to explore difficult areas in the North Sea.
Something can be done now. I hope that the Labour Party will work with the Scottish Government in trying to ensure that George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, makes an early announcement to assist the sector by giving it stability and the confidence to move forward. That would make the jobs of the PACE partners much easier as they talk to people in the north-east about prospects for a bright future, especially given the current situation.
Let us welcome the work of PACE and the opportunities that remain in the sector, because that is the future.
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