In Scotland, dark side of cheaper fuel

So far in the UK, more than 65,000 people have lost their jobs owing to plummeting oil prices in the past year.


    This week I met Kenneth Little - one casualty of the oil crisis in Scotland.

    A man with a firm handshake, he opened his door with a smile - much welcome on a cold Aberdeenshire night.

    I mention Little's smile because he has more reasons than many to feel less than affable at the moment.

    A few weeks ago, he told me he had got a call to say that his contract with BP was ending early, months early.

    It's the oil price, he told me. This is a man who has never been unemployed in his 30-year career in Scotland's oil industry. He, like most, didn't get rich; he got by, supporting his family in whatever way he could.

    Little is still trying to come to terms with what has happened. He is already applying for other jobs, but says there's more competition than ever before.

    Wife's Facebook post

    His wife, Lynne, is angry about the way her husband has been treated and angry that all oil workers are portrayed as rich and greedy.

    A recent item she posted on Facebook about her husband's plight and that of his colleagues has been shared over and over again.

    There is an assumption that in Aberdeen, which is Europe's oil hub, that everyone runs around in flashy cars and eats in fancy restaurants for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

    Let's be clear: Yes, for the past 40 years oil giants have made billions of dollars for themselves and North Sea oil has brought in billions of dollars in revenue for the UK.

    Yes, the average salary here is higher than the UK national average and some people have also been on big bucks.

    But don't forget that the UK oil and gas industry supports hundreds of thousands of workers across the country.

    The supply chain is huge and there are many people like Little who don't work on the rigs but in other roles.

    Biggest sector

    In Aberdeen at least, it seems that everyone is in some way connected to the industry, whether that's in the hotels where oil workers stay or driving taxis that ferry people about.

    It is the biggest sector here.  

    So, when a taxi driver tells you he's lost half his work since the downturn, you get a sense of how hard the crisis is biting.

    Ask anyone here what's causing this crisis and people talk about "geopolitics", how fracking in the US and an oversupply of oil is flooding the market.

    No one wants to look too far ahead and most hope it will get better when the price backs up, which it inevitably will.

    But one businessman said he is worried about a possible future skills gap and that the industry doesn't always learn from its mistakes.  

    It lets people go and then rehires staff months or years later, on a higher salary.

    Assignment takeaway

    So far, in the UK more than 65,000 people have lost their jobs, according to UK Oil and Gas figures from last September.

    What will I take away from this assignment?

    A few things stand out: the image of the rigs in Cromarty Firth where they arre parked up against a spectacular Highland backdrop.

    That oil and politics are inextricably linked, not just here in Scotland but globally.

    Plus, something that Kenneth Little told me.

    "People are saying, well, this is great because it costs so much less to fill up the car, to fill up the oil tank and everything else," he said.

    "People don't realise that the cost of that fuel coming down has an impact on the number of jobs out there."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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