UK Government still not clear on green skills and jobs plan despite Net-Zero Strategy, MPs warn

As of March 2021

That is according to MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC). The Committee has today (25 October) published a landmark report as part of its ongoing inquiry into green jobs. The inquiry has heard from Government bodies including the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Environment Agency, as well as trade bodies, education providers and major employers including Centrica, BP, Orsted and SUEZ.

The overarching conclusion is that the Government does not have a clear plan for delivering against its pledge for the UK to host two million green jobs by 2030. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) stated this March that around 200,000 people were employed in sectors assisting the low-carbon energy transition, such as energy efficiency, renewable electricity generation and electric vehicles (EVs).

The Net-Zero Strategy, published last week, touts the creation of a further 440,000 roles in these sectors by 2030. Should the Strategy be delivered, more than half of the promised green jobs for remain 2030 unaccounted for.

Policy recommendations

MPs on the EAC are calling on the Government to properly define which roles can be classed as “green” with a matter of urgency. The definition used by the ONS at present does not cover nature sectors, transition activities or the work of in-house or consultancy sustainability professionals. A lack of definition can hinder the Government from properly engaging with businesses to develop the skills required, the EAC is arguing, as was the case with the failed Green Homes Grant­­.

The foundations must also, of course, be laid for the longer-term implementation of additional support for skills, from school through to lifelong learning, the EAC explains in the report. It is recommending that the Careers Strategy be updated by the end of this year, with net-zero in mind. Also by the end of this year, the Committee would like to see the Government assigning indicative costings to each department’s actions within the overall green jobs delivery plan.

This clarity at a top-level strategy level, the EAC’s report argues, will provide the foundation to close existing policy gaps on green skills and jobs.

For example, the Committee argues that the Government’s decision not to launch a National Nature Service, which has been recommended by many green groups and industry bodies as a “shovel-ready” manner of improving skills and delivering jobs post-Covid, was unwise. It sets out the case for launching this initiative by the end of 2022.

The EAC is also calling for a rethink of careers advice in schools and universities, and for measures to green the Kickstart scheme, which creates new jobs for unemployed individuals aged 16 to 24. During the inquiry, MPs heard evidence that just 1% of Kickstart roles opened in 2020 and 2021 have been in the green economy.

Beyond risking the overall delivery of the promised number of roles, the EAC report warns that the Government’s current approach risks jeopardising a just transition, deepening existing inequalities between and within regions. It calls for the publication of plans assessing regional and sectoral impacts of the net-zero transition in terms of society, diversity and the economy.

EAC chair Philip Dunne MP said that while key projects are underway to “build an economy set for net-zero”, “the workforce of the future is being undermined by a lack of evidence-based Government policies on how jobs will be filled in green sectors”.

Dunne added: “Encouraging announcements of investment in green sectors of the economy are very welcome but the Government admits that claims about green jobs lack explanation and data on how the targets will be achieved.”

The report comes on the eve of COP26, which officially opens in Glasgow this Sunday (31 October).

Ahead of the summit, the Government convened a new Green Jobs Taskforce comprising expert representatives from NGOs, thinktanks, trade bodies and employers. The Taskforce will now need to assess whether the Net-Zero Strategy realised its key recommendations.

Sarah George

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