Leaders: Support for North-east is a welcome joint effort

ABERDEEN has been an oil boom town but is struggling and it is right that action is taken now rather than waiting until it is too late
Prime Minister David Cameron during a tour of Aberdeen Harbour. Picture: PAPrime Minister David Cameron during a tour of Aberdeen Harbour. Picture: PA
Prime Minister David Cameron during a tour of Aberdeen Harbour. Picture: PA

The City Deal for Aberdeen is a welcome state intervention for an area hit hard by the falling oil price.

Aberdeen has been a boom town for several decades, out-performing the Central Belt and enjoying the wealth provided by oil.

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However, for many, the boom has turned to bust. Redundancies from the oil and gas downturn are put at 65,000, but we are still in the early stages of determining what that will mean for those who have lost their jobs, and for the wider economy.

Inevitably, for many, the effects will be felt for some considerable time to come.

The sight of the Conservative Scottish Secretary David Mundell and the SNP infrastructure secretary Keith Brown sitting together to announce this deal is also very welcome. The UK and Scottish governments are working together to tackle the problems that are building up in the North-east, and that’s how it should be. That is what is required, and that’s what the electorate voted for in the independence referendum.

The point about the falling price of oil demonstrating that independence would have been an economic disaster has been made. In fact, the constant repeat of this argument is now becoming tiresome.

When Unionists state – quite reasonably – that Nationalists have to accept the result of the referendum and move on, they should remember that harking back to the referendum to damn the Scottish government over its forecast of the price of oil gets us nowhere in 2016. They have to move on too. The industry is in crisis, and co-operation between the two governments is vital.

To look ahead, we should heed the words of oil and gas industry magnate Sir Ian Wood, who has called for diversification. The oil industry may recover, but it is vulnerable to a repeat of the current market conditions. Building an economy in the North-east which is less reliant on oil would mitigate the impact.

It has been a hard lesson to learn, but the riches generated by the oil industry are also the cause of the current consequences. Who was interested in a plan B when the going was so good, for so long?

The £500 million funding announced yesterday by the two governments over the next decade is a strong gesture of intent, in a time of austerity.

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Areas to be supported include digital connectivity, housing and transport. These are all vital components to Aberdeen, as to the rest of Scotland, particularly as the city does not possess all the resources it might have been expected to amass on the back of the oil boom.

Transport, particularly, needs further investment, on top the Aberdeen western peripheral route, or bypass, under construction.

Rail upgrades, such as electrification, would cut journey times to Scotland’s other cities and help develop long-sought commuting improvements.

The key, as ever in these situations, is to allocate the city’s government funding wisely for long-term benefit.

Rail success borders on the brilliant

More proof of Scotland’s rail renaissance comes with news that the re-opened Borders line has already attracted more than 500,000 passengers, 20 per cent ahead of forecasts.

This is now a familiar pattern. Far more people use new railways than the official estimates used to justify building them. That was true of restoring tracks to Larkhall, Alloa and between Drumgelloch and Bathgate.

However, what makes the line to Tweedbank remarkable is that, unlike those projects, it is twice as long and to an area of the Borders without a railway for nearly 50 years.

With the line less than five months old, it is still early days, but the prospects look good for proving a railway can change decades of ingrained travel habits.

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It could be a watershed in the way passenger forecasts are developed. Perhaps formulas will have to be changed and economists forced to re-think the impact of a new line. If there was an acid test of restoring railways to rural areas of Scotland, this is it.

Campaigners for linking places like Levenmouth, St Andrews and Fraserburgh to the rail network will be delighted by the Borders success.

But other Borders towns should have equal cause for optimism now the line is on course to confound its sceptics.

One of the obstacles to extending the route beyond Tweedbank was the Melrose bypass.

Things look brighter than ever to clearing that hurdle and reaching Hawick, cruelly denied inclusion in the original scheme.

Homes built on the path of the Borders Railway had to be torn down so tracks could be re-laid. You’d now be mad to think of building on the route south to Hawick.