Q&A: View from the top: Campbell Keir EIC President

Energy Focus talks with Campbell Keir, new President of the Energy Industries Council about COVID-19’s impact on the industry, and supporting UK supply chain companies

What impact will the current market crises such as the oil price crash and COVID-19 have on the UK supply chain?

We are entering into new territories with the COVID-19 pandemic. Who would have predicted the impact on people’s health, and that large parts of the global economy would shut down? While the priority is to save lives, we should try to protect the core competencies and capabilities of our key industries as we did when the last oil crisis occurred. At that time, government intervention helped protect core capabilities, including initiatives such as the Aberdeen City Deal and formation of the Oil and Gas Technology Centre. We need to help the government identify what is required to preserve core capabilities and competencies ahead of a return to growth.

What measures can government departments such as DIT and trade associations like EIC take to assist businesses at this time?

EIC, like all trade associations, can play a vital role. Firstly, we have got to make sure our members know what’s on offer from the government – not just the new measures taken in light of COVID-19, but also what exists already. It’s surprising how few companies are aware of how UKEF (UK Export Finance) can assist companies export, e.g. payment guarantees. It’s the role of EIC to make members aware of these different types of assistance schemes.

In the current crisis, it’s vital that EIC has an open dialogue with government on how the industry is responding to the measures that have already been introduced and whether they are enough, or more is needed. For example, in my capacity working for British Expertise, we have been giving feedback and asking industry what rules and regulations can be relaxed to allow business and industry to continue to operate.

We need to prepare for returning to business as usual. Perhaps it may proceed at a different pace around the world depending on the situation in a particular region or country. Maybe parts of Southeast Asia will rebound  ahead of the rest of the world, with Europe following – we have to wait and see. Let’s hope it’s as quick as possible. In the meantime, it’s essential that the EIC continues to help its members identify where the opportunities are and how to access them.

Part of your role at DIT was leading on infrastructure. How are the UK’s leading firms helping companies win major international contracts in this current climate?  

With regards to energy and infrastructure, there are huge opportunities globally. For example, if I focus on infrastructure, the DIT has done a lot of work in Latin America, in countries such as Peru, Brazil and Colombia. To meet the demands of their rising population and growing prosperity, developing and emerging economies like those in Latin America will need assistance to upgrade their infrastructure, whether it be roads, ports, airports or railways. The UK has a lot to offer, especially in integrated infrastructure planning, front-end engineering, and so on. What is important is that these markets understand the holistic UK offer. If we look at the oil and gas sector, decommissioning is a huge opportunity worldwide. The UK has significant experience in decommissioning (oil and gas, civil nuclear). Rather than having individual companies bidding around the world, we need to take a more joined-up approach, bringing the industry commercial/technical offer together with the City of London package alongside government-to-government support to win against the competition.  

COP26 has now been postponed to 2021 due to COVID-19; how can the government keep up the momentum on its climate change commitments?

I am in two minds over whether the coronavirus pandemic will help us focus on the climate change agenda. Governments around the world are quite rightly currently focusing on managing the crisis, saving lives and protecting the economy. At some stage, we will return to the climate change debate. The global economic shutdown has resulted in emissions in the UK dropping dramatically. People talk about being able to hear the birds singing in London. Fish have returned to the waters of Venice, and the haze has cleared from cities around the world.

Perhaps the impact human activity is having on our climate and wellbeing is becoming much clearer to the general public, and this may put additional focus on the climate change debate and pressure on leaders to keep up the momentum on commitments in this area. Or perhaps we will return to our old ways – who knows?

The UK has made tremendous progress; we increased our electricity supply through renewables and are now less reliant on fossil fuels. Still, we need to go further in addressing heat and transport issues. I don’t believe the climate agenda is going to disappear. I think it will be a firm priority once we are out of the woods with COVID-19.

Looking ahead to future investments, what lessons can we learn from offshore wind development in the UK during 
the past 10 years?

The implementation of offshore wind was heavily backed by strong, clear governmental policy. Also, the industry knew what it was going to get in terms of commercial rewards and then applied technology to bring the costs down. The winning formula was clear government policy, commercial robust investments and application of technology.

Congratulations on being appointed EIC’s new President. What role do you see yourself and EIC playing, going forward, in a rapidly changing landscape?

I see my role as helping CEO Stuart Broadley and his team achieve their objectives, especially in the longer term as we transition to Net-Zero 2050. I want to act as an advocate for the energy sector on behalf of EIC and its members at a time when the sector and supply chain is undergoing transition. While net-zero 2050 is a clear target, we can’t abandon the hydrocarbon industry. We will still need this industry to provide energy, which will support not only developing and emerging nations, but also emerging markets as their economies grow.

However, we must do that in a socially responsible way. We need to be very clear with EIC’s Stakeholders about what EIC stands for. Going forward 10–20 years, I expect EIC will look very different. It isn’t going to be easy, and public perception will put a lot of pressure on extractive industries. Managing expectations will be essential. I believe EIC has a strong role to play in the UK, and see the organisation strengthening its position overseas.

EIC will be holding its second Energy Exports Conference (EEC) later this year. How important is such an event in facilitating the supply chain and international trade?

As the last EEC was an inaugural event focusing on exports, we were quite surprised at how successful it turned out to be. This year’s event will be important in bringing even more global opportunities to UK supply chain companies.

Traditionally, a lot of trade is carried out by taking a delegation of representatives, from around 15–30 companies, overseas. This is a relatively small percentage of the SME population in the UK. If you can bring the global market to the UK through events such as EEC, the opportunities are endless. It’s easy for SMEs to travel to Aberdeen and other parts of the UK to attend a conference, and if you can set them up right and whet their appetite, you can get them on that export path.

I am still very much in favour of doing overseas missions, but I think there is a strong role to play in bringing global companies to the UK. Events such as EEC are key in bringing opportunities to the UK supply chain. 

About Campbell Keir

Campbell Keir has more than 30 years of professional experience in the oil and gas industry. After graduating with a master’s degree, he joined Shell International as a Petroleum Engineer. Mr Keir has worked in operations and technical positions in the Netherlands, Malaysia and Abu Dhabi, followed by a series of senior roles throughout the Middle and Far East. He spent seven years as Country Chair and VP for Shell in Kazakhstan. In 2015 he was seconded for two years into Department for International Trade (DIT) as Deputy Director for Energy, then joined DIT as Deputy Director of Energy and Infrastructure.

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