Taking big steps

Labour’s shadow minister for energy spoke passionately to delegates at the energy conference about the party’s ambitious vision for the energy industry

“The UK stands on the cusp of a green industrial revolution and the energy sector is central to this decarbonisation process,”said Rebecca Long-Bailey (pictured), shadow minister for business, energy and industrial strategy at UNISON’s energy conference this week in Liverpool.

Addressing delegates, she said that energy workers will be key – at all levels – to ensuring the country is ready for renewable energy regeneration when it comes online.

“But green jobs are not just going to appear. It will be the role of government to guarantee the right infrastructure is in place and to ensure the tremendous economic opportunities that will come with it.”

The Labour Party is committed to bringing the energy network back into public ownership to achieve the national target: 60% of energy should be from low carbon renewable energy sources by 2030.

“There is huge job potential in low carbon energy – whether in hydrogen, tidal, wind turbine. The UK has the potential to lead the world in these technologies.”

To achieve this, Ms Long-Bailey identified the critical role energy workers will have in delivering green energy and in convincing the public of its importance.

“Knock on doorsteps in Salford and most people are more worried about making ends meet than they are in meeting decarbonisation targets. You can’t expect them to want to be part of this new industrial revolution.  It will require workers who are trusted – whether it’s on the doorstep or down a phone line – to engage with customers and persuade them of the benefits of a green economy.”

The Labour Party has had on-going discussions with UNISON and other trade unions, businesses and communities about what a green revolution means and how it will work. “To make energy supply work for workers, industry and the planet we’re going to have to take big steps, not tinker about around the edges. We need a radical approach.

“Quality unionised green energy jobs won’t just appear out of thin air. It will take a properly-resourced industrial strategy to ensure that future technology is developed, manufactured and installed here.”

Ms Long-Bailey acknowledged that the discussions with UNISON and other energy unions can be difficult, as some workers will lose out when widespread reform is introduced. However she offered some reassurance saying that workers transferring will be guaranteed jobs on the same pay and conditions as their current role.

To fund its plans, Labour will reinvest the money received from grid renationalisation in the infrastructure, staff training and in reducing bills. The Citizens’ Advice Bureau and the government’s own research have identified that many distribution companies aren’t investing in infrastructure sufficiently to make it fit for the future.

“Since privatisation, there has also been a wholesale failure to invest in staff training and development,” said Ms Long-Bailey. There is a demographic skills’ time bomb ticking, as  workers from 1970s and 1980s are approaching retirement and there are not enough workers with the skills required too to take their place.”

This commitment was welcomed by the energy conference where many workers are currently facing the risk of redundancy as energy companies cut jobs to reduce losses. This year, British Gas has cut 500 jobs in Glasgow and Leeds and Npower is due to cut 900 jobs due to falling profits.

“This revolution is not just about a green climate. It is also an opportunity to try and invest in areas, which have been starved of investment for the last 30 or 40 years. We want our kids to be able to aspire to well-paid jobs of the future and to be able to show them what energy generation they’ll be creating,’ concluded Ms Long-Bailey.