Where Did All The Green Jobs Go?

Far, far away….

One of the problems with all the claims about new “green” jobs from the shiny new “net zero” economy our politicians promise us (or threaten us with, depending on your point of view) is that the massive expansion of “renewables”, in particular wind farms, has produced so few jobs at the cost of such massive damage to our wild places. A side effect of making energy expensive and unreliable is that much of the UK’s capacity to make things has been exported to other countries with lower environmental standards than the UK now enjoys, so the claimed reduction in greenhouse gases as a result of going down this route is dubious, to say the least, since often the things we need are now produced in countries that rely on coal-fired plants to produce their electricity, and then the products have to be transported long distances back to the UK. The sense of that escapes me. It escapes others too.

Broken promises and offshored jobs

This is the title to a reporti prepared in 2019 by the Scottish TUC, on employment in the low-carbon and renewable energy (LCRE) economy. Having first made the necessary genuflection towards the supposed need for an LCRE economy (“the STUC is absolutely committed to building a low-carbon economy and meeting climate change targets”), the STUC then goes on to produce damning information regarding the difference between the Scottish Government’s repeated promises of employment in this area against the reality:

However, we are criticising the failure of industrial policy to ensure that workers, businesses and Government in Scotland benefit from Scotland’s natural resources. Without a domestic industrial base for the LCRE economy, not only will workers in Scotland miss out, but there are serious implications in terms of tax, transparency, economic democracy and meeting climate targets.

The report refers to numerous promises made by the Scottish Government over the years:

Harnessing Scotland’s Marine Energy Potential (2004) – 7,000 direct jobs in the marine industry by 2020.

Renewables Gap Chain Analysis (2004) – 17,000-35,000 jobs by 2020.

Low Carbon Economic Strategy (2010) – annual growth of 4% a year to 130,000 jobs by 2020 (and 5% of the overall workforce). Of the 60,000 new jobs to be created between 2010-2020, 26,000 in renewables; 26,000 in low-carbon tech; and 8,000 in environmental management.

2020 Routemap for Renewable Energy in Scotland (2011) – 40,000 jobs in renewables by 2020.

Scotland’s Energy Strategy (2017) – 4,000 jobs per annum in energy efficiency programmes.

The report looks at the information made available to that point by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The extraordinary fact was that over the time-frame covered by the STUC report, employment in the LCRE economy was falling, and the numbers were nowhere near the levels suggested by the various plans, reports and promises over the years:

While there are issues with the quality of the estimates, the latest figures released in January 2019 estimate 21,400 direct full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs in the LCRE economy in 2017. This is a fall from 23,900 the previous year. The ONS estimate a further 25,000 indirect jobs in 2017, taking the total number of direct and indirect jobs in Scotland to 46,400. This was a fall from 50,500 in 2016, but slightly higher than 45,800 in 2015.

The reasons for this were obvious. The lack of a domestic supply chain and manufacturing base means that imports exceed exports in these areas, and what is needed is being made abroad rather than in the UK, at the expense of British jobs. And the trade balance in this regard was widening. Lots of examples were given in the STUC report, such as:

Moray East Windfarm

100 turbines off the coast of Caithness are being built by a consortium involving Portugal’s main energy firm EDPR, French utility Engie and Diamond Generating Europe, a subsidiary of Japanese firm Mitsubishi Corporation. The blades are being built by Danish company, MHI Vestas Offshore Wind – a joint venture between Vestas Wind Systems and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. MHI Vestas have a plant in the Isle of Wight that employs 300 people. Under the previous ownership of Vestas the Isle of Wight plant was closed in 2009, leading to the loss [of] 425 jobs (and a high profile 18 day blockade by workers and activists). The wind turbine jackets are being handled by a ‘first tier’ Belgian procurement contractor called Deme. Deme awarded the contract for 45 jackets to Lamprell – a company in the United Arab Emirates. Lamprell made a 98m dollar loss on its contract for 60 jackets for Scottish Power Renewables, developer of the East Anglia One wind array, suggesting it does not have a great track record in wind turbine jackets.

Numerous other similar examples were given:

Kinkardineshire Offshore Wind Limited – a Spanish joint venture; Beatrice Offshore Windfarm Limited – a joint venture involving Danes and the European subsidiary of a Chinese company with, allegedly, migrant workers being paid less than the minimum wage, with special concessions granted by the Home Office to allow the employment of Russian and Indonesian workers; Afton Windfarm, with health & safety issues alleged by STUC, owned (at the time of the report, after various changes of ownership) by the European subsidiary of a Chinese company, the turbines having been manufactured in Spain; issues with decommissioning of oil rigs, being transported by Chinese ships to Bangladesh for the purpose.

The STUC’s conclusion was clear:

The examples above illustrate that [there is] a clear over-reliance on overseas financial interests in the LCRE economy. They also illustrate that where low carbon jobs have been created, too often these have been poor quality and non-unionised. This chimes with academic studies showing that green jobs are particularly insecure and prone to the volatility of the market.

The whole report is worth reading for a summary of much that is wrong in this area. The conclusions are worth quoting:

Past predictions of employment in the LCRE economy have not translated into the jobs boom promised. The LCRE economy is characterised by overseas financial interests, a limited industrial base and precarious work. This is a failure of industrial policy that means workers, businesses and Government in Scotland do not benefit from Scotland’s natural resources. It has serious implications not only in in terms of jobs but also in terms of tax revenues, transparency, and economic democracy.

On 17th April 2019, the GMB Union responded to the STUC report, with comments that are still available on that union’s websiteii:

The report reinforces what we have consistently argued about the reality of renewables employment and the challenges posed by the transition to a low carbon economy. Ultimately, it shows what happens when politicians preach and don’t plan.

BiFab is the case in point. Despite all the talk of a green jobs revolution, the fabrication yards in Burntisland and Methil remain empty

The manufacture of 100 turbine jackets and five floating platforms for the Moray East and Kincardine projects will not take place in Fife but in Belgium, the North East of England [hoorah!], Spain and the United Arab Emirates; the result of our industry being controlled by European state subsided energy firms, Far East finance and Middle East sovereign wealth, and their supply chain partners of preference.

This is what long-term political failure looks like and the price is paid in the loss of thousands of jobs and billions of pounds of prosperity to the Scottish economy, starving hope from working class communities in regions of economic deprivation like Fife.

Scotland’s EV charging structure

More than two years later, and one might have expected UK politicians (and especially those in Scotland who seem to be leading the charge to export jobs) to have learned some lessons from all this. Surely, when it comes to the massive task of installing the charging structure for electric vehicles, the Scottish government would have granted the contract to a Scottish company, or at least to one based in the UK? Not a bit of it. On 4th March 2021 the Scottish Government’s websiteiii proudly announced that SWARCO eVolt was taking over the contract “as the back office operator which enables people to access over 1600 publicly available charge points across Scotland.” Amidst the PR hype, they overlooked to mention that this is an Austrian company. And hype it certainly was:

Following a smooth transition, the priority is to continue to improve ChargePlace Scotland’s reputation for reliability and accessibility for electric vehicle drivers across the country. The new contract will bring new jobs to Scotland, improved customer service and better performance information for users and owners and hosts.

It’s quite an irony, then, that the new arrangements seem to have caused chaos, with the Courier reportingiv

Massive problems at a Dundee service centre have wreaked havoc on Scotland’s £45m electric vehicle (EV) charging network.

Oh well, never mind, the report also tells us that

The Austrian-based multinational has already supplied and installed much of Scotland’s charging point infrastructure. The move brought [drum-roll….] 18 high-value jobs into the city.

Two years later

Surely the situation must have improved by 2021? Not a bit of it, as Magnus Linklater, writing in the Timesv, makes clear.

On jobs, for instance, what is the prediction? Once we were told by the SNP there would be 130,000 green jobs by 2020. In fact, as Sir Keir Starmer inconveniently pointed out on his recent trip to Scotland, there are fewer direct jobs in the industry now than in 2014, with less than a fifth of the projected total delivered. Once a wind farm is created it is not a big employer. Even the construction period has limited potential. There is no major UK-based manufacturer of wind turbines, and much of the work is farmed out to cheaper plants in southeast Asia. Most of the big offshore projects are foreign-owned, such as the giant Neart na Gaoithe site off the Fife coast, owned and run by EDF Renewables, a wholly owned subsidiary of a Paris-based group.

It is idle to pretend that jobs lost in the North Sea oil and gas industry will soon be made up by employment in renewables.

What exactly did Sir Keir have to say on the subject during his visit to Scotland? There are numerous reports, but this one from Daily Businessvi is as good as any:

Labour leader Keir Starmer says Britain is failing to build a green economy with more than 75,000 job losses in the sector in the last five years.

Sir Keir accuses the UK government of “broken promises” and the Scottish government of “going backwards”.

During a visit to Scotland he said the Scottish National Party, has broken its pledge to create 130,000 green jobs by 2020.

Figures show progress on green jobs going backwards in Scotland, with fewer direct jobs today than in 2014, making up just a fifth of the green jobs promised by the SNP, he said.

The figures show a loss of 33,800 direct jobs and a further 41,400 jobs in the supply chain for low carbon and renewable sectors between 2014 and 2019. This includes thousands of jobs lost in solar power, onshore wind, renewable electricity and bioenergy, and a huge fall in the number of jobs in the energy efficiency sector.

Slowly the Penny Begins to Drop

On 4th September 2021, an article appeared in the Guardian’s sister paper, the Observer, with the title “Gone with the wind: why UK firms could miss out on the offshore boom”vii

I was unaware of the industry pledge, apparently given in return for taxpayer funding, which does at least help (if honoured), but patently it doesn’t go anywhere near far enough:

A crucial industry commitment, made in exchange for government subsidy, is the pledge to use UK-made components for at least 60% of every windfarm. While this would be an improvement on the existing trend, which has seen fewer than half of offshore windfarms built using UK parts, some say more needs to be done to build a homegrown supply chain and avoid being left behind in the global renewables race.”

The GMB again has its finger on the pulse, and is well aware of the realities in this area that seem to evade the politicians, green dreamers and environmental campaigners:

The industry is dominated by European energy giants. These big developers, which invest in building the windfarms and reap subsidy payments in return, include Denmark’s Ørsted, Norwegian state energy giant Equinor, and Scottish Power, which is a division of Spanish renewables giant Iberdrola. SSE is one of the few companies with turbines spinning in British waters to have a London Stock Exchange listing.

The companies that make up the supply chain – the makers of blades, foundations and high-voltage cables – are often foreign. In addition to Denmark’s Vestas, UK-based blade manufacturers include Germany’s Siemens and US conglomerate GE.

The GMB trade union has warned that the UK risks squandering a major economic benefit by allowing many of the components of its offshore wind boom to be manufactured in the factories and steel mills of Asia.

The labour required to transform steel into the 8,000 wind turbine foundations needed to meet the UK’s climate targets could create 30,000 jobs for the next 30 years, according to the trade union. It would require 20 million tonnes of steel which, if made in the UK, could itself could support another 8,000 jobs.

As things stand these steel fabrication jobs are destined to be in Asia, with the only role for UK workers being to pay for them,” says Gary Smith, the GMB’s general secretary. “This is both unnecessary and politically unacceptable.” He adds that steel supply chain companies are “acutely aware of how far the UK lags way behind” other countries in developing the technology and investment the industry needs.

And yet campaigners continue to oppose the proposed Cumbrian coking coal mine, with a concerted attempt being made at this week’s public inquiry by those self-same politicians, green dreamers and environmental campaigners to make sure that not only will 500 coal mining jobs, in an area of deprivation and high unemployment, not be permitted under any circumstances if they have their way, but the related steel-making jobs will all be exported in a lose-lose situation.

The latest debacle

And still we in the UK seem to be incapable of making “green” jobs, or even retaining those we already have, albeit they seemed to exist only with taxpayer subsidies. Today the BBC tells usviiiCampbeltown wind turbine factory closes permanently“.

So, what’s the story here? The turbine factory in Cambeltown on the Kintyre peninsula is the oldest such factory in the UK, but it has a chequered history. The BBC report tells us that it went into administration in 2011, was rescued, then sold to a South Korean company (CS Wind) in 2016. But in 2019 the majority of the staff were made redundant, and now the remainder are following, as the administrators blame “deteriorating market conditions” . As BBC journalist Douglas Fraser observes, however, “market conditions for wind power have never looked better.”

I’ll give the last words on this debacle to Pat Rafferty, Scottish Secretary of the Unite union, who said:

[T]he Scottish government sat back and watched from the sideline as the firm went bust.

“It’s high time they accept that on their watch, for over a decade now, there has been minimal green and low-carbon manufacturing jobs directly created in Scotland,” he said.

Stop press

I’ve just found some of the green jobs. They’re lurking in another BBC online reportix:

A Glasgow company has been fined £150,000 for making more than half a million nuisance marketing calls.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) found that DialADeal Scotland Ltd (DDSL) had made the unsolicited calls between August 2019 and March 2020.

They were about non-existent Green Deal energy saving schemes, including boiler and window replacement, loft insulation and home improvement grants.

…”Calls about Green Deal schemes can be a real problem as people often believe they are legitimate but, thanks to the complaints made by the public, we’ve been able to take action.”


Once more, I’ll let Pat Rafferty of the Unite Union in Scotland tell it as it is:

“There is no jobs revolution – it’s a myth.”

i https://www.gmb.org.uk/sites/default/files/Broken%20promises%20and%20offshored%20jobs%20report.pdf

ii https://www.gmb.org.uk/news/gmb-scotland-responds-renewable-energy-jobs-report

iii https://www.transport.gov.scot/news/swarco-evolt-to-operate-chargeplace-scotland/

iv https://www.thecourier.co.uk/fp/business-environment/transport/2486779/chargeplace-scotland-why-the-worlds-largest-electric-vehicle-switchover-went-wrong-and-how-a-dundee-team-are-trying-to-fix-it/

v https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/hot-air-will-not-make-case-for-onshore-wind-q35k5vsmp

vi https://dailybusinessgroup.co.uk/2021/08/75000-green-jobs-lost-due-to-failed-policies-says-starmer/

vii https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/sep/04/gone-with-the-wind-why-uk-firms-could-miss-out-on-the-offshore-boom

viii https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-58488135

ix https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-58455022

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via Climate Scepticism


September 8, 2021 at 03:31PM

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