New Anglia LEP taskforce agrees package of help for region’s oil and gas sector

A platform in the Southern North Sea.

A platform in the Southern North Sea. - Credit: Archant

A package of measures worth more than £300,000 is to be launched to support struggling businesses and employees in East Anglia’s oil and gas sector.

The initiatives have been agreed by an Oil and Gas Taskforce set up last year by the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to address the impact within the region of the dramatic fall in the price of oil.

The downturn in the sector is particularly hitting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the region’s energy supply chain, and there are fears that prices could remain relatively low for some time yet.

Research conducted by Lowestoft-based Nautilus Associates for the taskforce and local authorities shows 26 companies filed for administration in the Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth area between April and October 2015, with more than 1,000 people being redundant, while many other companies have been asking staff to take unpaid leave or salary reductions.

Now, the taskforce – which includes local MPs, business leaders, Jobcentre Plus and local authorities – has agreed a package of measures prioritising three key areas.

For oil and gas businesses, an initial free face-to-face assessment by New Anglia LEP’s Growth Hub advisers will be offered, followed, if required, by a 50% discount towards a more intensive support package provided by specialist consultants.

This will include advice on diversification, re-structuring and alternative growth opportunities as well as developing business plans.

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The discount will be funded by Norfolk and Suffolk county councils and Waveney district and Great Yarmouth borough councils which have set aside £80,000.

In addition the LEP is modifying its Growing Business Fund grant scheme to support future business plans, with £250,000 being set aside for this.

For those losing their jobs in the sector, support will be offered to help them retrain, find alternative employment or maintain their industry certifications, with assistance offered via Jobcentre Plus.

The taskforce will also work with local colleges and training providers to ensure access to relevant training courses, including some discounts on the cost of courses.

The third strand of the strategy involves a continued campaign for the Government to provide support for the Southern North Sea, including recognition that it needs dedicated economic assistance similar to that provided in Scotland and a reduction in taxation.

LEP board member Mark Goodall, who chairs the taskforce, said: “We set up the taskforce to address the very real problems our energy businesses are facing; now we have real tangible measures that are going to address some of their core issues – expert advice on how to identify threats and opportunities, and bespoke financial support that will help sustain and build on new business plans.

“And if the worst does happen there will be targeted support for those who might be displaced to ensure they can access new jobs and valuable skills are not lost.”

Peter Aldous, Member of Parliament for Waveney, has recently written to the Prime Minister requesting a package of support for the industry as a whole, including tax reductions.

He has also asked for specific support for the Southern North Sea including the work of the taskforce and the business and employment support being offered.