A NEW group has been set up to support the North oil and gas sector following the winding up of the Energy Jobs Taskforce.

The Oil and Gas Industry Leadership Group will be co-chaired by Scotland’s Energy Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, with the aim of taking forward the taskforce’s work.

Nicola Sturgeon established the taskforce in January 2015, as companies struggled to cope with plunging oil prices, to ensure a long-term vision for the industry, with a focus on securing sustainable change that addressed the challenges facing the sector.

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Under its guidance, spending on oil and gas innovation almost trebled last year, with £15.9 million of Scottish Enterprise support helping 82 companies to deliver more than 100 projects. A total of 800 companies have received advice on innovation, leadership, internationalisation, business resilience and diversification.

The final taskforce meeting was held yesterday. Afterwards, the First Minister met engineering apprentices at Tullos Training in Aberdeen, who are aiming to become the North Sea’s workforce of the future. Sturgeon said: “The taskforce has been a catalyst for culture change, ensuring companies innovate and remain competitive while helping thousands of individuals.

“It has made a vital contribution to strengthening the oil and gas sector, laying the foundation for a positive future for the North Sea economy.

“With employment levels beginning to stabilise, the signs of improvement are encouraging.

“However, I fully appreciate that challenges remain and we will continue to work with industry to ensure the recovery is sustained.”

Taskforce chair and Scottish Enterprise CEO Lena Wilson said the taskforce had met its original objectives: “The time is right for the work of the taskforce to become mainstream business for the various organisations involved.

“Scottish Enterprise will continue to work closely with the sector to help it respond to challenges and opportunities ahead.”

Deirdre Michie, chief executive of industry body Oil &Gas UK, said: “Work by the taskforce also contributed to the development of Vision 2035, which industry is focusing on working towards.”

Scottish Trade Union Congress general secretary Grahame Smith said: “As well as achieving many of the objectives set by the First Minster, the taskforce has been the catalyst for a number of other positive outcomes that should serve the industry well in the period ahead.

“Among the most significant is the constructive relationship that has developed between unions and employers and the recognition that a workforce with an effective voice at strategic and operational levels is vital to the industry’s future success.”

Jake Molloy, regional organiser of the RMT union, added: “The taskforce has been an invaluable means for engagement between all stakeholders and Scottish Government departments, something which has never previously been achieved.

“This has provided a far greater understanding of the work and roles of the respective taskforce members and created a foundation to continue building collaborative working to create and sustain employment in the energy sector.

“The group may no longer meet but the work goes on – it has to.”