pounds 20bn bonanza forecast from North Sea oil

North Sea oil and gas revenues will contribute more than pounds 20bn to the Exchequer over the next six years, according to unpublished forecasts by the Inland Revenue.

The Revenue expects North Sea revenues to reach pounds 4.1bn during the 1997- 98 tax year, tailing off slightly to pounds 3.4bn by the year 2001-2002.

The figures come as a separate report by Royal Bank of Scotland, issued today, showed that provisional estimates of combined oil gas and oil tax revenues for November reached pounds 54m per day, 21 per cent up on the same month in 1995.

The Revenue's forecast for future tax income, issued yesterday by the Scottish National Party, is based on output remaining at similar levels to today, while oil and gas prices stay broadly as at present.

Tax revenues are structured to take a larger proportion of any increase in the price of oil and gas. This year oil prices have surged from $18 to around $24 a barrel, taking the industry by surprise.

The SNP said a study by the University of Aberdeen, published in November showed that for each US$1 increase in the price of a barrel of oil, the Government receives an extra 50 per cent in revenue. At $16 a barrel, oil revenue alone between 1997 and 2000 will be almost pounds 11bn, rising to pounds 18bn if oil reaches $22 a barrel.

Nicola Sturgeon, SNP energy spokeswoman and prospective parliamentary candidate in Glasgow Govan, said: "These figures confirm the massive contribution that Scotland's energy wealth will continue to make to the London Treasury.

"It is all the more staggering when you consider that Labour and Tory politicians in the 1970s telling [us] that the oil would not last 10 years. It was their way of making sure that we did not get any ambitious ideas."

Ms Sturgeon added that the revenue assumptions, which were part of the Inland Revenue's Budget calculations, were underpinned by a government statement that oil and gas reserves will last for the next 55 years. The SNP demand for Scottish independence meant these resources could be used to meet Scotland's priorities.

The Revenue figures come as a report by Royal Bank of Scotland, out later today, shows that UK gas and oil production rose to its highest level since October 1995. Provisional estimates of the daily combined oil and gas revenues show they were about pounds 9.4m a day ahead of the November 1995 total.