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South West Subsea Industry Gains Political Support

23 July 2012

Dr Liam Fox MP has backed a call by Viper Subsea for the Government to promote the skills and enterprise of subsea technology skills in the South West on his next overseas visit. The MP for North Somerset voiced his support while visiting Viper Subsea’s headquarters in Portishead on Friday (13thJuly 2012).

Currently, the Subsea industry in the South West employs approximately 1,000 people directly as well as in jobs associated with support functions. Within Dr Fox’s constituency, around 700 people work in the industry. The world market for subsea products is forecast to double in size in the next five years and Viper Subsea arranged the visit with Dr Fox MP in order to raise awareness of the importance of the sector as a future employer in the region as well as to discuss the issues the company faces in matching that expansion, in particular that of finding skilled new recruits.

Viper Subsea is a subsea engineering company that provides consultancy and manufactures engineering products in the UK which it sells to the oil and gas sector worldwide. 90% of its business is export work and the company is experiencing rapid expansion, with 50% growth year on year and a record current order book value for overseas equipment orders.

Neil Douglas, Managing Director of Viper Subsea said "The global subsea industry is worth about £20bn per year and the UK has about a 31% share of that market. In the UK alone, about 50,000 people are employed in the industry with over 50% of the revenues resulting from export sales. The UK is the second biggest player in the Subsea industry after Norway. The world market is anticipated to grow to £40-45 billion per annum in the next five years. However, while the Norwegian Government has advanced its progress by investing heavily in infrastructure and centres of excellence to encourage skill and technology development, we have not reacted so emphatically in the UK. Recruitment is becoming a major issue for the Subsea industry in the UK, and given the number of jobs we can create both here in the South West and UK wide I believe the Government needs to support initiatives for skills development. Otherwise we risk having to buy in skills from overseas or worse still having to outsource to overseas companies in order to fulfil our orders.” Douglas added "We have not missed the boat yet but we do need to act now to ensure we can continue to maintain our place as a world leader and to ensure subsea skills shortages don’t strangle future growth of the industry in the South West.”

Dr Fox said he believed the government can create the conditions in which markets grow rather than shepherding a market. He said "Where you have a centre of excellence already developing as a result of the skills and market share, it makes sense for the government to encourage and safeguard those.”

The industry is concerned that the UK’s current reputation and profile in the overseas market will rapidly erode in the face of foreign competition unless government policy actively supports training and visibility of the industry. The most critical challenge for the industry will be recruitment - the industry body Subsea UK has announced that its members expect to have 10,000 vacancies over the coming year. The call is for facilities to be swiftly established, for both the current generation of scholars and engineers from other specialist fields in declining industries, to be trained in the skills required by the oil & gas industry, in particular offshore and subsea technology.