First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will announce a “national mission” to “create new, green jobs across Scotland with fair pay and good conditions” when she sets out her Programme for Government today.
The proposals will include a “youth guarantee” scheme as proposed by her economic advisory group report, a programme to re-train people to work in low-carbon industries, and public investment which will target the creation of “green jobs”.
As ever with job schemes, keep an eye on the detail. When the government say there will be a “guarantee” of work for 16 to 25 year old’s, does that mean that everyone who applies to the scheme will get work? And is that work simply subsidising the wages of corporations who could pay workers themselves, or will the public-sector create jobs directly? And how will “fair pay and good conditions” be contractually enshrined?
The economic advisory report proposed a “private sector led” job scheme, something which sounded very similar to the UK Government’s new ‘kick-starter scheme’ which appears to be subsidies for minimum wage employment for young people in service sector jobs. In what way is the Scottish Government’s scheme going to be different from the UK one?
And on re-training people to work in low-carbon industries, will we see specific ‘Just Transition’ plans to move people from North Sea oil into the green energy industry? That would require a proper industrial strategy, with labour force planning, long-term public investment schemes and domestic supply chain work to support it. It is one thing to offer financial support for training in green diversification, but unless workers can be convinced that the career paths actually exist, investing the time to acquire new skills may not appear worth the effort. Skills development and job creation needs to come as a package. As we looked at last week on Source Direct, previous promises on green jobs have been broken exactly because Ministers have been happy to license renewables developments to multi-nationals and let them get on with it. If this is a break with that then great – but there should be evidence of that today.
Another thing to keep an eye on is the numbers involved in today’s climate change announcements, and the timeline. The Scottish Government’s plans are currently to spend £2 billion until the end of the next parliamentary term on climate change, which is really nowhere near enough if they are serious about meeting their target of a 75 per cent emissions reduction by 2030. Rapid decarbonisation is either expensive, or it’s not really rapid decarbonisation. Common Weal’s Common Home Plan proposed around £5 billion a year. What we really need at this stage is not broad figures and vague timelines, but actual detailed plans of what money will be spent, where and when, and how the labour force will be assembled to deliver it.
To take just one practical example: hundreds of thousands of gas boilers need to be ripped out of homes and replaced with zero-carbon options. It’s not possible to do that at scale or speed or reliability through the market, on a home-by-home basis. We need district heating scheme installation schemes getting set-up in every urban area in Scotland. That alone will be around £35 billion, and will require a labour force the size of which doesn’t currently exist in Scotland. It is possible to do all of this and to create good quality jobs in the process, but it has to have the money behind and it has to be government, not market, led.
There is nothing wrong with Sturgeon’s focus on creating good quality green jobs. That is undoubtedly what Scotland needs. But we have been here before; where the words were much more ambitious than the plans. Remember when Scotland was going to be “the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy”? This time, we should pay attention to the substance, and learn from past mistakes.
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