ENERGY minister Fergus Ewing has accused the UK government of a “mismanagement” of North Sea oil as the SNP sought to blame the crisis facing the sector on Westminster.
Mr Ewing made the accusation during a meeting with industry bosses in London, which was attended by his UK counterpart from the coalition government, Matt Hancock.
The nationalist politician said the UK government had failed to use its economic powers to halt a decline in investment which threatens the sector after the oil price slumped from $114 a barrel in June to $49.95 – a drop of 57 per cent.
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However, a UK government spokesman said Mr Ewing was promoting a “list of grievances” and failing to come up with a response to the threat to Scotland’s energy sector.
Mr Ewing’s visit to London comes after Nicola Sturgeon was forced to deny at Holyrood last week that the oil price fall had proved Scotland was more secure within the UK.
Civil servants estimated that the fall left an £18.6bn black hole in the SNP’s tax projections for independence made during last year’s referendum, with the nationalist leadership facing opposition party claims that it failed to see the crisis coming.
However, Mr Ewing hit back and claimed that successive UK governments had used the North Seas as a “cash cow”, with damaging tax raids.
Mr Ewing, speaking ahead of yesterday’s PILOT meeting, which brings together government and industry representatives, demanded a shake-up in the tax regime to help reverse the decline in investment.
The minister stated that Westminster held the bulk of tax powers over the industry, as he called on the UK government to “urgently take substantive action”. He added: “Because of the mismanagement of oil and gas fiscal policy by the UK government, challenges remain and we must tackle the ongoing cost pressures and the fall in oil prices head-on.”
Mr Ewing also accused the UK Treasury of failing to fully reverse a supplementary corporation tax charge introduced in 2002 by Gordon Brown.
He said: “Last year the UK government announced a 2 per cent reduction of the supplementary charge rate – this reduction doesn’t go far enough.
“We are calling on the UK government to provide a clear timetable to fully reverse the increase brought in 2011.
“That will provide a strong signal for investors that the North Sea is open for business. After years of using the North Sea as a cash cow, the UK government must finally and urgently take substantive action.”
Meanwhile, Mr Ewing, speaking at a separate meeting of Scottish Development International, the body for promoting inward investment in Scotland as well as supporting exports, said energy tax credits and other measures were even more vital in the forthcoming Budget to restore confidence in the energy sector.
However, a Government spokesman accused Mr Ewing and the SNP of refusing to cooperate.
He said: “The Secretary of State for Scotland asked them to come to this meeting willing to listen and work in partnership with the UK government and the oil and gas sector and not come with a list of grievances.
“The Government is committed to working productively with the oil and gas sector to build on what we have done in recent weeks.
“We hope the Scottish Government do likewise with the substantial powers at its disposal on enterprise, education and skills and infrastructure investment.”
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