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Sturgeon urges opposition leaders: back oil industry plans

The future of the North Sea oil industry has dominated clashes at Holyrood, with the First Minister urging opposition leaders to give their support to SNP proposals to help the industry in the wake of falling prices.

Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats all pressed Nicola Sturgeon on the impact that prices, which have now dropped below 50 US dollars (£32) a barrel, would have on both the industry and the country.

Ms Sturgeon called for an end to "petty political point-scoring" at the same time as she criticised Labour MPs for backing Tory plans for a further round of austerity cuts in a vote at Westminster earlier this week.

The SNP leader announced the creation of a special employment taskforce to help the oil industry during a visit to Aberdeen yesterday.

She said: "If we can get on to the serious issue of the jobs concern in the North Sea, it's because there is a really serious concern that yesterday I established a jobs taskforce, to work to maintain employment levels in the North Sea, to give practical assistances to those who are faced with prospect of redundancy and to give a guarantee to every apprentice working in the oil and gas sector of continuing employment or training.

"That's the kind of practical help people want from the Scottish Government, not petty political point-scoring like we're getting from Labour."

Labour deputy leader Kezia Dugdale accused the First Minister of failing to act quickly enough when prices started to tumble

She told MSPs that Holyrood energy minister Fergus Ewing has described the "oil crisis as the most serious jobs situation Scotland has faced in living memory", adding that Ms Sturgeon had said during her visit to Aberdeen that "jobs were under threat".

The Labour MSP said: "It begs the question why the First Minister took so long to find Aberdeen on a map."

During the exchanges at First Minister's Questions, Ms Sturgeon accused the Labour Party of "trying to divert attention from something rather embarrassing that happened this week" when the party had voted with the Government on more cuts.

The SNP leader said nationalist MPs had voted against this but said the only Scottish Labour MP to do so was Katy Clark, who had stood against Ms Dugdale to be the party's Scottish deputy leader.

"The only Labour MP in Scotland that had the gumption to vote against Tory cuts was Katy Clark, Kezia Dugdale's opponent for deputy leader," Ms Sturgeon said.

"I'm sure there's a few Labour members today wondering if they picked the wrong person."

Ms Dugdale replied: "Thousands of jobs at risk in the North Sea and Nicola Sturgeon's priority is to have a pop at the Labour Party."

With former first minister Alex Salmond having said the SNP would focus on winning home rule for Scotland in this year's general election, she said this plan for full fiscal autonomy would "trade the stability" of the Barnett formula, which helps determine spending in Scotland, for the "instability of oil prices".

She added that experts had assessed the funding formula as being worth some £16 billion to Scotland as she told the First Minister: "Her plan to bin Barnett is downright bad for Scotland."

The SNP leader responded by calling on Ms Dugdale and Labour to "get behind the efforts of the Scottish Government and desist from the petty, political point-scoring".

Labour's deputy leader said she had offered support to the First Minister "if she could tell us specifically what she was asking to the UK Government to do.".

She claimed that Ms Sturgeon had twice failed to reply to letters from Labour Scottish leader Jim Murphy on this issue.

Ms Sturgeon told her the energy minister had outlined the changes the SNP is calling for in a statement to Holyrood last week.

"Kezia Dugdale says she doesn't know what it is the Scottish Government is specifically asking the UK Government to do to help the North Sea industry, so let me repeat it for her," she stated.

"We want a general investment allowance that our modelling shows could protect 26,000 jobs every year, we want that allowance as the industry does, to be basin wide.

"Secondly, we want a reversal of the increase in the supplementary charge, our modelling shows that could protect up to 5,600 jobs every year.

"Thirdly, we want the UK Government to introduce an exploration tax credit, when Norway did that in 2005 their rates of exploration increased four-fold.

"Those are the practical measures we're calling for. If Kezia Dugdale hadn't heard them, I really don't think she's been listening hard enough."

She continued: "Labour this week trooped through the lobbies in the House of Commons with their allies in the Conservative Party to impose £30 billion of additional cuts on Scotland.

"That's what will have an impact on Scotland's public services, that's what will have an impact on Scotland's economy, and Scottish Labour MPs should be deeply, deeply ashamed of themselves."

Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said Scottish Government oil and gas bulletins which predicted tax revenues from the North Sea had been used by ministers before the independence referendum to predict a second boom for the industry.

"We all wish that was true but it is not, and anyone who questioned it was shouted down," she said.

"This matters because the First Minister has confirmed again today that after the general election (the Scottish Government) wants to get rid of the block grant and use oil to pay for Scotland's schools and hospitals."

She went on: "When it comes to oil, this Government has inflated figures for political ends, its response (to the crisis) has been insufficient and, frankly, I would suggest anything but rapid.

"So, yes, let's all work together on short-term issues, but when there is an industry in crisis, when jobs are being lost, when the Governor of the Bank of England says Scotland's spending is being protected from such a crash, it's only damaging to talk of ripping the industry out of its current UK framework."

Ms Davidson asked if the Government planned to publish further North Sea revenue predictions.

Ms Sturgeon responded: "We will publish an oil and gas bulletin in due course.

"But in order to predict tax revenues from the North Sea, you have to know what the tax rates that apply to the North Sea are going to be.

"The UK Government hasn't yet told us what the position is going to be on the supplementary charge, or on an investment allowance or on exploration tax credits, so if Ruth Davidson wants to join with me in calling today on the Prime Minister, on the Chancellor, on the Energy Secretary to stop prevaricating and introduce the tax changes now that the industry is crying out for I would very much welcome her support."

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie called on UK Government agencies to be included in the new taskforce.

"Working in partnership is essential," he said.

"I was pleased to see the establishment of the Scottish Government's taskforce yesterday, but was surprised that UK bodies such as Jobcentre Plus, and the Department of Energy and Department of Business were excluded."

Ms Sturgeon said: "On the issue of the membership of the taskforce, nobody is being excluded.

"I want to make sure that we work with all interested parties and everybody who has a contribution to make."

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