‘Green’ shoots of recovery: Will the Government act now to fuel new sustainable jobs?

By Beth Park

In November of last year, the Government launched its Green Jobs Taskforce – a consortium of leaders from the worlds of business, trade unions, and further education, entrusted with setting the direction for the job market in the UK’s transition to net zero.

Today, ahead of perhaps the most important Budget in a decade, a fresh report commissioned by Friends of the Earth from Transition Economics is urging the Government to fuel the economy’s post-COVID recovery through the delivery of new green jobs, in particular for the young people suffering most economically due to the pandemic. 

According to An Emergency Plan on Green Jobs for Young People, a cash injection of £10.6bn by Government could create 250,000 green apprenticeships, alongside new “Centres for Excellence” at further education colleges designed specifically to support the development of green skills. 

Crucially, with around 500,000 people age 16-24 unemployed, a number that could double when the furlough scheme ends, such investment would help to prepare young people for jobs in renewable energy and landscape restoration and prevent a pandemic-induced car crash to their careers, the report claims.  

Importantly, it could also help to plug the skills shortage currently hampering ambitions to build green homes, upgrade transport infrastructure and make the energy network more sustainable. 

The report echoes similar calls by the Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, who on Sunday said that investment in training for jobs of the future, such as in the electric vehicle industry, would help to deliver on the “levelling up” agenda following the pandemic. But are his colleagues in Government listening, as they prepare for tomorrow’s announcement?

One would think that the answer is “yes”. The 2021 Spring Budget is of course coming forward against a backdrop of rising unemployment, an ambitious commitment towards net zero emissions by 2050 and a place at the forefront of the world stage on climate change, as the UK prepares to host COP26 later in the year. 

In fact, it is expected that the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is set to launch three new programmes funded by the £1bn Net Zero Innovation Portfolio – £20m into new offshore wind, around £70m for a competition to design a system to store excess low-carbon energy and £4m to explore production of green energy crops – and will announce that NS&I is to offer the world’s first sovereign green savings account, tied to the UK’s first green gilt, with funds raised to be invested in renewable energy projects and ‘clean’ transportation. 

Green campaigners, however, are sceptical. Despite these expected measures, they claim that the Government’s response to COVID-19 has been weak to date. They also warn that investment into alternative energy technologies is undermining the investment needed to create green jobs now. 

Yesterday, the TUC also projected that Government cuts to funding for the Green Homes Grant – a £2bn scheme designed to insulate homes and subsidise low carbon heating – could result in at least 8,000 of the 100,000 jobs that should have resulted from the scheme being lost entirely.

The result is a familiar campaign of mixed messages from Government – something they have been criticised for throughout their response to the pandemic, and that could stand to threaten the transition to net zero too. 

To me, it is clear that if the UK is has a chance of meeting its climate targets, and helping its young people back into the employment market at the same time, it must set out clearly how it intends to power green jobs across the energy industry. Tomorrow’s budget provides a timely opportunity to do so.