Energy strategy must guarantee jobs

As government announces long-delayed energy strategy, Unite calls for action on jobs and fuel costs

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The government today (April 7) announced a long-delayed energy strategy amid skyrocketing energy prices attributed to spiking demand following pandemic lockdowns as well as the war in Ukraine.

But Unite has highlighted that the energy strategy is not ambitious enough – it won’t help families struggling to pay their energy bills, nor does it give guarantees about decent, unionised jobs in the energy sector, one that is awash in profits and in urgent need of reform.

Announcing the strategy today (April 7), prime minister Boris Johnson outlined what the future of the UK’s energy supply might look like, with a strong emphasis on nuclear power.

The strategy includes plans to deliver up to eight nuclear reactors by 2030, with one being approved every year.  A new nuclear body will oversee this project which aims to reduce reliance on gas and oil.

On wind energy, the government announced that planning reform laws would be sped up to increase the number of offshore wind farms, with hopes to increase offshore wind capacity to 50 gigawatts (GW) by 2030, including 5GW from ‘floating’ offshore windfarms deeper in the Irish Sea.

However, critics highlighted the lack of ambition on onshore windfarms, with the government axing plans for 45GW by 2035 from the draft energy strategy in its final strategy announced today.

Also announced in the strategy was a £30m “heat pump investment accelerator competition” to make boiler replacements, but critics highlighted whether this would make much of an impact given how expensive it is for homeowners to install heat pumps.

The government said it intends to grow solar capacity to five times the current 14GW capacity by 2035, while targets for hydrogen production would be doubled by 2030.

Although the current cost of living crisis as well as the climate crisis have highlighted the need for the UK to wean itself off its reliance on oil and gas, the government announced it would support more drilling in the North Sea, with a new licensing round to be launched in six months.

Noticeably absent in the strategy were any measures to tackle skyrocketing household energy bills in the near-term, with critics highlighting a seriously missed opportunity to address improving energy efficiency through household insulation.

The Telegraph reported that chancellor Rishi Sunak blocked plans to expand a programme that would fund energy efficiency improvements for the poorest households.

Even business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng himself admitted the limits of the new energy strategy, noting it was “more of a medium three, four, five year answer” .

Commenting on the energy strategy, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “It has taken a war and a global crisis to get this government to act on the long-standing and vitally important issue of meeting the energy needs of the country and the planet. This is something we have been pushing for years.

“Now we have promises of investment and new jobs,” she added. “But the devil will be in the detail. Government investment must be tied to UK job guarantees and not be syphoned off to boost offshore profits. There can be no further delays on delivering the new jobs and they must be union jobs, covered by collective bargaining, good pay, terms and conditions.

“And let’s not pretend that this strategy is enough to fix the pain inflicted upon workers and households right now by the UK’s punishing energy costs,” Graham went on to say. “Energy producers are making more cash than they know what to do with.  A targeted windfall tax could get cash directly into the pockets of the people in this country who are facing the terrifying dilemma of heat or eat.”

Labour’s shadow climate change secretary Ed Miliband likewise slammed the government’s failure in taking action to reduce energy bills.  

“This relaunch will do nothing for the millions of families now facing an energy bills crisis,” he said. “No reversal of the ban on onshore wind and not a penny more on energy efficiency. These decisions will force households to pay hundreds of pounds more for their energy bills and keep the U.K. dependent on imported gas for longer.”

Meanwhile, Unite national officer for the energy sector Simon Coop highlighted the need to work with workers in the energy sector to ensure the UK becomes energy self-sufficient.

“Unite has been demanding investment in these industries for years – but we are yet to be convinced that the government possesses the ambition needed to become energy self-sufficient,” he said.

“Our members are more than ready to support the jobs of today and create the ones of tomorrow but these must be quality jobs with no lowering of the good employment standards that we have worked to establish across this industry,” Coop added.

“The government must also address the energy market failure which has resulted in a cartel of a handful of suppliers, the public picking up the cost of collapsing suppliers and a raw deal for consumers.”

By Hajera Blagg

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