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Interview

with Peter Stephen, Aberdeen Lord Provost, Aberdeen City Council

03.04.2009 / Energyboardroom

Please introduce the roles of Lord Provost and City Council insofar as they relate to the energy sector and promoting Aberdeen.

The primary role of Lord Provost of Aberdeen is to serve as the civic head of the City. The Lord Provost is selected from the elected members of the largest political party, but in practice there is a long standing convention that it is a non-political position.
In terms of economic development, one of the key roles I play is in meeting other civic heads, business leaders and politicians. Creating and developing strong working relationships is a vital part of doing business, particularly on the international stage.
For example, I represent Aberdeen as a board member of the WECP (World Energy Cities Partnership). The WECP is a grouping of 15 major cities that are important oil and gas centres around the world.
The Lord Provost’s portfolio also includes a range of ceremonial roles and duties. For example, I’m also Lord Lieutenant of Aberdeen which means I am Her Majesty the Queen’s representative; in that role I have 12 deputy Lieutenants assisting, alongside three Lord Lieutenant’s cadets.

What are the most important issues facing Aberdeen in terms of and oil and gas?

There are many complex issues facing the energy sector and I like to focus on those issues where I feel the office of Lord Provost can help advance Aberdeen’s interests.
For example when I travelled to Kazakhstan recently, the most important issue was to develop the MOU between Aberdeen City and Atyrau. I hope to see the business gateway develop between Aberdeen and Kazakhstan. The introduction of direct flights from Aberdeen to Atyrau would help considerably. It is a good example of how civic leaders can broker meaningful business development initiatives.

Is this in a framework of enabling city councils to work together, or does it extend beyond into the private sphere or infrastructure?

The purpose of MOUs with other cities is to set out, in broad terms, those areas in which we believe we can work together to progress mutual interests. These are not confined to business issues as there are social and cultural benefits to international relations that are rewarding in other important ways.
For example, the University of Aberdeen and The Robert Gordon University have both been working with several foreign universities in developing educational programs.
We work closely with private sector interests and do much to identify and develop reciprocal trade opportunities. From an infrastructure perspective, there is always much to be done to enhance the business environment. A case in point is the development of air links which are such a vital part of the business infrastructure.

What is the image of Aberdeen projected to international investors or companies interested in being engaged in the area in terms of the oil and gas sector?

Aberdeen has half a century of experience in the oil and gas sector. Initially expertise and education came from America; over time the city has developed its own repository of skills and expertise. Aberdeen’s expertise has been hard won in the hostile environment of the North Sea and is highly valued in oil and gas provinces throughout the World. We are very proud to boast that Aberdeen City & Shire is the Energy Capital of Europe.
Key features for potential investors include
· A globally recognised centre for the energy industry
· Setting international standards in energy engineering
· High tech research, development and innovation
· A world leader in bringing energy technology to market
· The largest concentration of energy businesses in Europe
· An entrepreneurial spirit
· The greatest concentration of subsea engineering and operational experience in the world.
· Major project management, development & commissioning centre
· A diverse and expanding mass of energy skills and experience
· Innovation, determination and resilience
· A global energy city with world-wide alliances
· One of the most prosperous parts of the UK and a key driver of the Scottish economy.
· Global hub for energy technology development.
· Highest concentration of knowledge based businesses in Scotland.
· Major energy players such as BP, Subsea 7, Chevron, Halliburton, Acergy and the Wood Group are all developing new headquarter buildings in the City.

With the UKCS facing gradual decline, and with international competition for skills and talent, what is Aberdeen doing to ensure it retains its premier position as Europe’s Oil and Gas Capital
For a start, we have a broader perspective than oil and gas alone and see ourselves as Europe’s Energy Capital. Over the past decade, alternative and renewable energy has become increasingly important in the wider scheme of things.
Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group is working on several projects which demonstrate the region’s commitment to Renewable Energy. These include a joint investigation into the feasibility of developing an Offshore Windfarm off the N.E. coast of Scotland and establishing a new Professorship in Energy Futures supported by the University of Aberdeen, The Robert Gordon University and Aberdeen City Council
Aberdeen hosts an alternative energy conference that is growing in size year on year; the 2009 conference holds a lot of promise. So we are very supportive of local efforts to diversify from hydrocarbon production.

In the weeks leading up to the WECP gathering, what is your final message to OGFJ readers about Aberdeen and the role it plays in the oil and gas, and indeed energy, sector?

Aberdeen is home to a broad base of energy sector businesses, international energy companies and multi-national operators to large-scale service providers and small innovative SMEs. Together these organisations provide a critical mass of energy industry activity, which underpins Aberdeen’s status as a Global Energy Capital.
Today, there can be few deep water developments in the world that does not have some component of Scottish ingenuity.
Aberdeen City and Shire has built a worldwide reputation and generated great economic wealth from the success of the oil and gas industry. The region’s entrepreneurial spirit is flourishing, as is demonstrated by the large number of successful businesses that have grown within the region. Aberdeen City and Shire has the greatest proportion of new business bank accounts in Scotland and more VAT registered businesses per thousand population than Scotland and the UK. It is the second most competitive location to do business in, in the UK. It also has the lowest unemployment rate in the country, so it is not surprising that many companies choose to set up business here.
The ‘can-do’ attitude and culture has meant that the region is a powerhouse of expertise and knowledge, generating numerous innovators and entrepreneurs, particularly in the oil and gas sector. In fact one of the themes of the new regional identity is that it is the home of ‘natural pioneers’. The many small family businesses that have grown to become international operations are testament to this, and the breadth of businesses headquartered in the region range from engineering to software development; oil drilling to renewable energy technologies; rich arable and cattle farming to nutrition and food sciences; and life sciences to the water of life, whisky!
Confidence in the future is not just the hallmark of the energy sector – it is reflected in the wide variety of industry throughout the region. The highest concentration of life science companies in Europe is to be found in the Aberdeen area, and it has a thriving finance sector.
This is a place where companies choose to have their worldwide headquarters. A place that is growing and prospering, and will be delivering success for many years to come.

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