Budget wish-list letter sparks bitter row between Tories, SNP

The north-east’s Tory MPs have thrown their weight behind an appeal to the Chancellor to give the oil and gas industry more support in next month’s Budget.

It comes at the end of a week when Brent crude rose above $60 a barrel for the first time in more than two years.

The MPs have added their names to a letter to Chancellor Philip Hammond, a Conservative Party member, calling for “significant investment in the sector”.

Aberdeen North MP Kirsty Blackman, SNP, accused the UK Government of dithering and treating North Sea industry as a cash cow before the oil price downturn.

The letter also asks the Treasury to let companies transfer the tax histories of North Sea oil fields from seller to buyer.

Oil and Gas UK (OGUK) has repeatedly said that reforming the tax relief system would encourage smaller companies to buy mature assets and keep them producing.

The Treasury announced in March that an expert panel would meet to consider the issue and report its findings in the Autumn Budget on November 22.

But Mr Hammond dampened expectations of a breakthrough in September when he warned of “complex” issues that may not be resolved by the time of the Budget.

The joint letter from the oil and gas all-party parliamentary group (APPG) at Westminster was written by Waveney MP Peter Aldous.

The north-east’s MPs are among 10 Scottish representatives who have co-signed the letter.

Aberdeen South MP Ross Thomson, Conservative, said: “I have spoken to the Chancellor about the importance of introducing transferable tax history, and welcomed him to Aberdeen for a visit last month.

“He has seen first-hand the potential for a recovering oil and gas industry, which will benefit the UK economy immensely and revitalise communities across the UK.

“The UK Government has worked closely with the industry since the financial downturn.

“We believe the promotion of new investment is vital to its recovery and future success.”

The SNP’s Ms Blackman, who is also a member of the APPG, said: “While any support for the sector is welcome, this is just the latest call for the very same tax relief the Tories announced in their last two budgets and have delayed for far too long.

“If we finally get some long overdue movement from the Chancellor then Scotland’s new Tory MPs don’t deserve an ounce of credit for that.

“The Tories have some brass neck – they’ve dithered through the downturn while oil and gas jobs have been lost in their thousands. When the going was good the UK government taxed North Sea oil to the hilt and enjoyed the spoils, but when things got tough they ran for cover and Scotland’s economy didn’t get a penny.”

Mike Tholen, upstream policy director at OGUK, said: “The UK continental shelf urgently requires fresh investment to drive productive new activity across the basin.

“Enabling tax history to be transferable between sellers and buyers of North Sea oil and gas assets in the forthcoming Autumn Budget will attract new investors into the basin and delay decommissioning on many late-life assets, a shared aim for all of us.

“Importantly, the proposed fiscal measures come at no additional net cost to the Exchequer and we look forward to hearing a positive announcement in November.”

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