From the Chief Executive: October 2020

In this edition we look at the compelling case for companies to compete on the global stage, as the world continues to deal with coronavirus and the countdown to COP26 begins 

We are honoured to welcome Sir Ian Wood KT GBE as our View from the top in this edition. One of Scotland’s most successful and influential businessmen, Sir Ian’s far-ranging vision helped transform the modest Aberdeen-based fishing business founded by his father into a global energy services giant employing around 55,000 people across operations in more than 60 countries.

Now no longer at the helm of Wood plc, Sir Ian continues to champion initiatives as Chairman of The Wood Foundation, a Scotland-based charity with a global outlook, and Opportunity North East, a private sector catalyst for transformational change in north-east Scotland.

Highly respected for his views on business and energy, he excites debate on subjects ranging from energy transition and exporting to roles of government and talent development. As someone who used to work for Sir Ian 20 years ago, I am always in awe of his vitality, intellect and genuine care for his community.

This edition focuses on the vital topic of internationalisation, following on directly from the EIC’s largest event of 2020 – the highly successful Virtual Energy Exports Conference, which brought together 2,500 delegates, US$800bn of project opportunities and over 200 speakers from 20 countries, participating in more than 50 webinars during four days at the end of September.

Now, more than ever, we need to focus on encouraging more UK businesses to export. As well as market uncertainty, the UK political climate continues to cause investment challenges, and the value of UK energy opportunities continues to drop year on year. There simply is not enough business to go around inside the UK across all energy sectors, and companies must now turn their resources and investments to international growth, or risk having to diversify outside energy in order to find growth.

If the lack of UK opportunity does not underline the need to grow exports, then surely the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union must drive the message home?

At the time of writing, the UK is weeks away from a deal or no-deal outcome of EU exit negotiations. We have just agreed our first post-Brexit trade deal with Japan, while talks for new and lucrative free trade agreements (FTAs) with countries including the US, Australia and New Zealand continue. The benefits of tapping into a foreign market with strong demand could be game-changing for companies, and I urge EIC members to grab the chance to piggyback on these FTAs and capitalise on these opportunities.

The other groundswell change in Europe beyond Brexit is energy transition. The speed of change is incredible. Oil companies in Western Europe are leading the charge, but differences in priorities are slowing progress in the Americas, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Does this mean European players are smart, care more for the planet, and are ahead of the curve in seeing the business opportunity, or are they instead bowing to social pressure too soon and leaving the lucrative oil markets for the rest of the world to enjoy?

This question is central to COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference that will be hosted by Glasgow in November 2021. I recently asked EIC members what they wanted Prime Minister Boris Johnson to pitch on the COP stage. They were resolutely clear in their response – emphasise the UK’s innovative supply chain, have a clear energy transition roadmap, make the UK globally competitive, have an integrated energy policy and be aware that the time for action is now.

COP26 will be a mega-event for Glasgow, with 30,000 delegates and more than 100 heads of state. However, event management on this, or any, scale is still a massive unknown for 2021, with continuing social distancing measures, face masks, travel bans, quarantines and social trust issues when meeting strangers.

It seems unbelievable that nearly a year has passed since COVID-19 struck and still the technology, events and digital industries have struggled to solve the problem of how to network and meet the next new client using digital platforms. Rarely has a problem needed to be solved so universally – what a chance for innovation and wealth creation for someone out there.

Next year will undoubtedly be absorbing. We all want a return to face-to-face interactions, the opening up of air travel and a COVID-19 vaccine, while the desire to keep the positive aspects of home-working, digital meetings, online content delivery and concern for continued emission reductions will remain strong. Bring it on, 2021!  

Stuart Broadley Chief Executive Officer, Energy Industries Council