By Donna Ewen
ABERDEEN’S Lord Provost Barney Crockett is well known for his support of local organisations and for representing the Granite City at home and abroad. With his election as President of the World Energy Cities Partnership (WECP), he is set to further raise the profile of his home town and broaden its business relationships. Established in 1995, the WECP now connects 20 of the world’s leading energy capitals and provides a network of industry support services and resources, while its trade missions enable local businesses to travel to member cities and capitalise on development opportunities. The member cities are uniquely positioned to address the issue of a sustainable, long-term energy future for all – and Lord Provost Crockett intends to lead the way.
ABN: What do you hope to achieve as President of the World Energy Cities Partnership on behalf of Aberdeen?
Lord Provost: There are three things I have set out to do as President. One was, we try to make sure all the members are active, and if people are not active, then we usher them out as we only want very active cities involved. The second thing is we seek to recruit cities in the parts of the world that have been politically difficult, but are essential if you are a world view on energy. We have already ushered in our first Japanese city, Kobe, because it was a weakness we didn’t have. They are an outstanding member, and we are looking at other places including Russia, places who have political challenges, but we need to be there if we are speaking for the world of energy. The third thing which has made most headlines at the moment, three years ago, I said world energy cities were going to have to engage with energy transition, at the time, three years ago it seemed like a distant cloud on the horizon but now everybody is fully involved and fully aware of it, so that is a key part at the moment, so that is what I am trying to do for World Energy Cities and for Aberdeen. What I am essentially trying to do is make Aberdeen the key centre. What I have said is the informed discussion about energy transition rather than the enraged and inflamed discussion.
ABN: In your role as Lord Provost you support over 80 organisations and institutions, how do you manage to juggle it all?
Lord Provost: One of the things you have to do is have total engagement. My wife literally will say to me in the morning, ‘see you at bedtime’, it really is an around the clock job, no question of that. One example is yesterday, it was a 16-hour day going from being in the railway station for the launch of our new rail link to London in the early morning, through to visiting the mart at Thainstone, to choose the historic Lord Provost prize for the best heifer, which was a highlight for the Lady Provost. It’s an ancient prize and always the top prize on cattle at the event which goes back a century. Then we had a big dinner at the Town House for the Scottish Police Authority, who have some very important decisions to make about this area, so it is a very important diplomatic thing and a whole different range of other things, in between that. You are around the clock, but of course it is fantastically interesting and what a privilege to do it.
ABN: I put to you Lord Provost you are quite possibly the savviest business Lord Provost we have ever had. Would you agree?
Lord Provost: That is very, very kind of you. I’m sure there have been others, but I think it is important as this is a private sector city and we all have to appreciate that. My calculation is we are probably the most private sector-orientated city in Europe, we have the biggest private sector for the smallest business sector of anywhere in Europe. That brings enormous challenges and how careful you have to be with public money, but also it brings huge opportunities on the business side, and we just have to absolutely make the most of this and show enormous commitment to supporting private businesses of every kind, while trying to provide public services which people rightly want and demand. Business is our business and one thing that is unusual is it is appreciated across all of the parties in the Council which I do not believe is too controversial. Certainly, it plays a huge role for us, without a doubt in other parts of Scotland too, that’s for sure.
ABN: How important is that Aberdeen repositions itself as an energy capital rather than an oil and gas capital?
Lord Provost: Well I think going back to the points there I think it is absolutely crucial the number one thing that we have to do. First of all, you have to appreciate we have to embrace a gradual change. Oil and gas are an enormous industry anyway but also a financial industry right across an enormous business. In competing with it is difficult as we need to reprofile ourselves and encourage every aspect of green energy in the area. I think we have to concentrate on higher technical energy that is why hydrogen may have a bigger role – that we have to find the niches that we need. One of the things I think will be really important is a place where people across the board can come to a place to discuss these changes and then implementing them. That’s why I think the P&J TECA is so important to us. We need a conference centre, to host discussions having a high level of information and sophistication, locally, and to promote a global understanding of energy. We have to make the most of that for our own benefit.
ABN: Decommissioning could be worth a great deal to Aberdeen but also marks the winding down of oil and gas. How do you manage what could be a double-edged message?
Lord Provost: Already we have reached the stage where the North Sea accounts for less than half of the energy sector work that goes on here. We are the most international of all oil and gas cities in the world. More of our people work abroad, or those who work here concentrate on things that are happening abroad, so that is already there. Regarding gaining expertise on commissioning, everybody locally realises that is going to be a huge thing. Aberdeen won’t be a centre for pieces of metal, but the strategic place for the high-tech that is on rigs. I believe that is already quite far advanced. The North Sea has led in so many things so already it leads the way in improvements on decommissioning and can lead the way in selling services, world-wide, while other places go through the same phase.
ABN: To what extend do you think perceptions of Aberdeen are changing – are we being recognised as a global leader on hydrogen, for example?
Lord Provost: I believe we are better recognised more internationally than maybe at home. One of Aberdeen’s problems has always been in getting its message over into a UK audience, particularly a Scottish audience. Last week we had a very large team of German journalists over to speak about hydrogen, and there were tones of astonishment about how far ahead we have gone in comparison to what they are doing in Germany. We are now taking part in a thing called CERAWeek in Houston, which is the highest level of the world’s premier energy conference. Up until now it has been for ministers and chief executives of the oil and gas companies. This is the first year that any cities have contributed discussions at CERAWeek. The hope would be that we can encourage local companies to come with us because it is an enormously important to be there.
ABN: Aberdeen has been a lucky city. On the day it was announced on the front page of the Press & Journal Rubislaw Quarry was to close, further down the page there was a story that said oil had been discovered. Do you think Aberdeen is destined to thrive?
Lord Provost: I am confident that is the case. If you look at the good growth guide that is produced every year it is really predicting economic growth, Aberdeen is back in the Top 10 in the UK after a difficult period. Aberdeen already has this unmatched links. I have had family members recently visit Angola and Ecuador, Vietnam and Kazakhstan – that is a typical Aberdeen story which is the basis of our future. People should get used to thinking in world terms, get used to thinking globally and used to thinking you have to fit in and you have to be relevant. You can’t just sit out the dance, you need to take part. A few years ago, the Good Growth Guide stated we had the most companies per head in the UK. We are an American-style city which bodes well for the future. We have the dynamic and go-ahead nature of our people, who have been brought up over the past two generations – which is the basis for going forward.
ABN: The recent independent Economic Policy Panel report said there are opportunities for Aberdeen to lead on the transition to low emissions economy. How can your work as president accelerate this?
Lord Provost: The key thing is internationalisation. We are more aware of international links we have. I believe we can bring companies that have expertise across the world. To give one example, we now have very good links with Japan. Kawasaki have opened a workshop in the area with an office in Aberdeen. They will be using submarines which Kawasaki have developed for the Japanese navy, but will use them for completely autonomous vehicles. A senior executive of an oil company who said ‘we will make a lot of money through energy transition’. They see it as an earning opportunity not as a threat and opportunity to make a lot of money. I believe that will be the basis for a lot of things that will happen. We already have the ambitious entrepreneurs to go on and do well and we will have the ability to take things that happen in other fields of activity into green energy. We have strong universities that fully realise the importance of energy, which will also help them get staff because people want to be relevant to this energy transition, which applies not only to the universities but to companies who need to attract young people. The future of Aberdeen has never been brighter.
ABN: We hear a lot about diversification – again, how important are the international relationships you build in serving that goal both in terms of support and market opportunity?
Lord Provost: We have a tremendous hand to play. As I mentioned earlier about choosing the best heifer at Thainstone Mart, we have had interest from Kazakhstan about live cattle from their beef industry. To give one example I think the networks are building up with new cities. We are encouraging them to think about World Energy Cities Partnership. Georgetown in Guyana has had a very large oil find, but they want to ensure they keep their green credentials to protect their forestry. One of the issues they have is they have no high-tech policing and ability. The police here have offered to train police in Georgetown. There are a hundred things, individually, small, but the network they have amongst the city is very strong. I believe we can spread our expertise for the benefits of the cities – which I believe can encourage diversity. Places like Kazakhstan have rapidly increased in their standards of living. Calgary for example has green energy, as there is green energy in Houston. Our European partners have close ties to offshore wind development. Essentially, we can build a web around us that helps everybody, but in particular, this area.
ABN: When it comes to trade missions, how does the role of president differ from that of Lord Provost – or is there an overlap?
Lord Provost: If it’s missions for Aberdeen then Lord Provost to get a lot of attention. I must say I try to foreground the history because it gets picked up across the world. Being President brings another element to my role. I hope to be more and more involved in putting forward a joint perspective from the World Energy Cities Partnership to major international forum that can get a lot of respect from the industries we are associated with. I think the CERA conference is a good example. I shall be speaking at the UK local authority pension forum on energy at their main conference. There is a lot of demands to disinvest but we need to keep links with our main companies. Our links to Europe to London remain very strong. I never forget in my role as Lord Provost I am the Lord Lieutenant, so I have a lot of Royal responsibilities, which also gives us a very high profile – giving us more and more attention to everything including us working very hard with the Royal Family to get good things for the UK as well as for Aberdeen.
ABN: Lord Provost, do you ever get nervous about anything? You strike me as just taking everything in your stride. Does nothing faze you?
Lord Provost: I have never felt nerves about anything. It sounds trite, cloying but my father was wounded in WW2. My mother always told me, ‘whatever you do son, never be scared’. I keep that very close to my heart. She literally said that to me on her deathbed. I really don’t have any fear of anything.
ABN: We’re seeing plenty happening in Aberdeen of late. The new event complex TECA, the Art Gallery relaunched, work on Union Terrace Gardens starting, the harbour expansion plans. What does that say about the city and where we it is heading?
Lord Provost: I believe the people of Aberdeen got used to thinking things would never happen as there was so many delays on various projects. Now, of course, they are saying, one, two, three. I think it has really changed the mentality and I think the people have a much brighter attitude. Everybody is taken aback with the new event complex and the AWPR has helped us imagine the new harbour, which will really change the economy. We can look forward to seeing cruise ships, new cargo, the development of the harbour – a slightly more leisure orientation as an attractive place to stay. There are very few cities in the world who would not want to change places with Aberdeen.
ABN: Finally, are you to be addressed as Lord Provost or Mr President..?
Lord Provost: That’s a very interesting question [he laughs]. I’ve never really thought about it! Being President of World Energy Cities Partnership does earn a lot of respect from other cities, but it also brings lots of responsibilities…