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Renewables Jobs Crisis and Covid 19

As we try to rebuild our economy following coronavirus, there has been a lot of talk of a green recovery. The UK Chancellor, Richi Sunak, has spoken about a ‘green industrial revolution’, and in Scotland, more than eighty organisations have written to the First Minister calling on her to ‘build back better’ and reduce climate emissions.

Addressing the climate emergency is vital, but the shape of any green recovery is crucial to gaining public support. With a potential surge in youth unemployment and the loss of 30,000 jobs in the North Sea, a green recovery must be designed in a way that creates jobs, reduces inequality and provides a just transition for workers.

That is why STUC have released a report examining Scotland’s current low-carbon and renewable energy economy. ‘Scotland’s Renewable Jobs Crisis and Covid-19’ finds that despite past promises of 130,000 jobs by 2020, direct employment in 2018 was 23,100, down from 23,400 in 2014.

When it comes to the offshore wind sector, employment fell from 2,000 in 2017 to 1,700 in 2018, despite the installed capacity of offshore wind increasing more than 250 percent, from 246MW to 623MW.

So why, when we are seeing significant economic activity, are we not seeing jobs being created? Our report finds that Scotland’s low-carbon and renewable energy economy is dominated by private and overseas interests. The sector suffers a significant a trade deficit, importing more goods and services than it exported – to the tune of £189.5 million in 2018, up from £78 million in 2014. While the full fallout from coronavirus is not yet clear, a long supply chain dependent on imported goods risks Scotland being exposed to economic shocks moving forward.

Bar one demonstration turbine off the coast of Leven, all of Scotland’s offshore wind is controlled by overseas state-owned companies or private corporations. These companies have limited interest in providing good quality jobs in Scotland’s supply chain. To take one example, SSE and Total’s £5.7 billion offshore windfarm, Seagreen, off the coast of Angus, has been found to be paying migrant workers less than the minimum wage to undertake survey work. More recent reports suggest they are about to offshore manufacturing work abroad, transporting content on diesel-burning barges.

Last week Crown Estate Scotland announced plans to lease Scotland’s seabed for £8 billion worth of offshore wind projects. Announcing the proposals, the Minister, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, said: “As we emerge from the crisis, we have a chance to re-imagine the Scotland around us, and to begin building a greener, fairer and more equal society and economy, one in which wellbeing, fair work and social justice are prioritised. “Our seas are host to some of the best offshore wind resources in the world, supporting the continuing growth and expansion of the sector. We want to harness this huge resource for our energy system, unlocking significant investment in the supply chain to create more green jobs across the sector.”

Yet despite now requiring developers to submit a Supply Chain Development Statement, it appears there is no requirement for this statement to have any regard to the location of that supply chain. Effectively, a supply chain statement sourcing content from Indonesia will be treated in the same manner as a supply chain statement sourcing content from Scotland.

It seems the Scottish Government's current low carbon and renewable energy strategy is effectively binding Scotland’s resources, workers, and industry to overseas and private interests. That approach risks communities and workers across Scotland losing all faith in the concept of a Just Transition.

Of course, it doesn’t need to be like this. Our report sets out proposals for an alternative, more just green recovery – establishing a National Infrastructure Company; ensuring the proposed Publicly Owned Energy Company invests in renewable generation not just energy supply; and implementing a moratorium on developments that don't provide jobs locally or recognise unions.

Our existing low-carbon and renewables sector is dominated by unaccountable corporate and overseas interests. That needs to be addressed if we are to build back better and tackle climate change.

Francis Stuart STUC Policy Officer

Renewables Jobs Crisis and Covid 19