Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick. A shadow on the wall. And a very small man can cast a very large shadow.
– Lord Varys, Game of Thrones.1
Attributed to: Jim Rae, Principal, Scientia et Sagacitas Limited,
Aberdeen, UK (a totally independent consultancy practice)
Are jobs a victim of an ‘Industry Leadership’ power struggle? As many workers find themselves moving into the 45-day consultation period with their employers on the topic of potential redundancies, it is apparent to all those active in the sector that everything that can be done, should be done, to preserve employment, capability and technical resource within the UK industry. Otherwise, there will be little to “transition” or “internationalise”. Who is championing the cause with Government and how?
Anybody who has a stake in the UK oil and gas sector, from the humblest employee to the grandest entrepreneur has watched on in dismay as months have passed and little practical assistance has been directed towards retaining the human expertise and resource that has made this country such a hub of international offshore excellence. This is a perspective not lost on the Offshore Coordinating Group (OCG) of six offshore unions, whose member OILC/RMT recently published the latest edition of its newsletter – “Enough is Enough”. I quote:
“As a nation exploiting the remaining natural resources from a mature basin we cannot treat a highly skilled workforce as if it were a tap that can be turned on and off when needed. Neither can we hope to retain and develop the skills needed to achieve the much talked about ‘Just transition’ from oil and gas to renewables.” 2
Granted, there have been reports, task forces, forums, seminars and media statements ad infinitum, but actual tangible action has been slim on the ground and any advance has been at a pace that would embarrass even the slowest of snails. Many key initiatives have been procrastinated over for months and when the outcomes have emerged (if they have even yet emerged), they have focused on the future, rather than the present.
“The above perspectives are widely known across our industry and are problems that can be resolved with Leadership commitment. The problem our industry faces today is not a problem of middle or front line management. The problem our industry faces today is Leadership, more pointedly, short sighted, self centred leadership; leadership who only care about their own personal interests…” 3
In effect, it appears the leading lights in some industry bodies are indulging in manoeuvres with Government that are analogous to homeowners that are so deeply engrossed in planning and costing future kitchen improvements and bathroom conversions, whilst their entire house burns down around them. Soon their grand home improvement schemes and value enhancement prospects will be totally redundant, as there will be no house to feature them!
To my mind, it all echoes and is somewhat reminiscent of the themes of the hugely popular small screen production “Game of Thrones” (GoT), in which rulers of various “kingdoms” aspire and plot to take over control of everything, so as to be perceived rulers of all they survey. In the process there is lamentable collateral damage, a trail of casualties and widespread woe.
In such a purely make-believe scenario, perhaps we could assign various industry bodies, leaders and politicians to their most appropriate fantasy parts. The OGA (Oil & Gas Authority), for example, one could assume is the ‘current’ House that thinks it is in charge at Kings Landing, namely the Lannisters/Baratheons. Oil & Gas UK (OGUK) could be considered to represent the Sparrows (that is, largely the ‘smallfolk’) and be supposedly outraged at the suffering being inflicted on the workers by the high lords of Industry, particularly the wanton attacks on members’ livelihoods when entire companies are ravaged in the oil price war. Whilst the Oil & Gas Technology Centre (OGTC) could be perceived as representing ‘The Houses of the North’ – somewhat remote from the ‘Seat of Power’ but with a clear view as to how things should be in the future. And, in the higher echelons BEIS, leading the faithful and representing the populous.
I remind readers however that, “When you play the game of thrones, you win, or you die. There is no middle ground” 4 and the ending for the majority of players in the Game is rarely nice as shown in the following paragraphs.
Like Joffrey Baratheon, who succeeds in his upward struggle only to get poisoned at his own Coronation. The veritable flood of new Laws, “initiatives” and promised deliverables (that seem beyond the capabilities of his army of serfs to produce) proves his eventual undoing. To quote, GoT – “Calling yourself king does not make you one” 5 and “Here, man gets what he earns, when he earns it.” 6
Behind Joffrey of course was Cersei Lannister, whose highly political scheming and personal belief portrays itself in a constant effort to acquire power, but suffers in a sad episode when the Sparrows force her to walk naked through the city whilst all the ‘little people’ cry “Shame” at her and throw rotten food, when as a result of her remarks and public utterances, they realise how little she really thinks of them.
Concurrently in the North, somewhat under the radar, is Melisandre, the ‘Red Witch’ who uses ‘fire’ and shadows to influence things. All is never as it seems with this character as she weaves tales of the future through her visions. Though not obviously directly involved in the fight for the Throne, she is constantly briefing and influencing captains of industry, ministers, financiers and politicians to develop a plausible powerbase for dominance in the future. Melisandre is also ruthless in her support to the rare deity the ‘Lord of the Light’ and does not hesitate to kill hundreds if it suits her needs. She backs the wrong person to become King, never really gets over her poor choice, and eventually gets banished from the North.
Meanwhile In imagined elevated political domains, The High Sparrow is supposed to lead the ‘Faith’ and support the ‘people’ (Sparrows) who were tired of the pain inflicted on them by the squabbling kings. Yet actually, the High Sparrow is also playing personal games to get what he wants, which includes power and influence over the Throne, purportedly in the name of the ‘People’ but that is highly debateable. High Sparrow is wiped out in a blaze of ‘Wildfire’. Get the fire brigades ready in Westminster!!
Much as it is fun to indulge in such amusing fantasies and mere speculation, the reality is that the “players” engaged in the “Oil and Gas Industry Game of Thrones” struggle are actually being usurped in the present day delivery of real tasks by the heads of three organisation, whom selflessly represent members in the supply chain and workforce by tirelessly championing their interests, without fear or favour, and with little regard for their own individual image or personal advancement.
Step forward, Will Rowley at Decom North Sea, Neil Gordon with Subsea UK and Jake Molloy of OILC (on behalf of OCG). It suffices to say, that despite the multiple obstacles that have been thrown in their collective path over the last few months, these “characters” have stuck to the mission and continue to make actual progress on concepts NOW, that may yet create the lifeline the sector desperately needs to actually reach the much-talked about, and fought over, “Transition”, with its promised investments.
Perhaps, their joint-industry knowledge, expertise and worked-up proposals can persuade HM Treasury to inject funds into the sector, where others have failed, overly procrastinated, or maybe, one suspects, not even tried that hard.
A new approach could pay longer-term dividends too in driving down costs through better project management and budgetary controls.
“We are of the opinion that the supply chain is aligned across industry, in that unless we do something different then this downturn is going to outlast any Government sponsored furlough scheme and many of the employers in the supply chain.” 7
A constant theme in “Game of Thrones” is that “Winter is Coming” 6 (meaning the world as they knew it was coming to an end) – in this case it could actually be “Winter is Here!” for the oil industry?
Footnote: It would appear my frankness and willingness to express a viewpoint outside the “group think” of perceived wisdom within the “Aberdeen Oil Bubble” has made me very unpopular within some quarters. So be it! As with the “King’s new clothes”, sometimes the airing of a “different truth” is beneficial to the greater good in the long-run. This correspondent (and the publisher), welcomes constructive criticism, challenge and comment on any of the topics raised herein. Just don’t necessarily expect me to agree with you!
So, a final reference to Game of Thrones – “You know Nothing, Jon Snow” 8
2, 3, 7 : “Enough is Enough”: Issue 34, September 2020: Bulletin of OILC
(the offshore energy branch of RMT)
1,4,5,6,8 : ‘Game of Thrones’: Copyright HBO
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