We can’t trust energy workers’ futures to Big Oil

An abridged version of this article appeared in the Press & Journal on Saturday 6 August 2016.

The port at Nigg, where work on the Beatrice Offshore Windfarm is creating 100 green jobs. Photo: Sea Cromarty Sparkle by Rhonda Surman. CC-BY-2.0.
The port at Nigg, where work on the Beatrice Offshore Windfarm is creating 100 green jobs.
Photo: Sea Cromarty Sparkle by Rhonda Surman. CC-BY-2.0.
I want to start this column by offering my support and solidarity to the 400 workers at the multination oil services company Wood Group, who are continuing with the first offshore strike in almost three decades.

These workers already do a tough and sometimes risky job, have already been moved to a three-week working pattern meaning longer periods offshore away from their families, and are now being asked to accept pay cuts.

While workers’ pay is cut, the Chief Executive of the Wood Group has been given a 28% pay rise, taking his salary to £600,000 a year, and the company is handing out a generous 10% dividend to its shareholders.

This attitude exemplifies an economy that treats workers in the same way as it treats the oil and gas they drill – as a commodity to be exploited until it is no longer profitable; never mind the harm caused or the damage left behind when corporations move on to juicier profits elsewhere.

So it’s small wonder that the disregard shown for these workers’ immediate future is matched by the disinterest most oil and gas firms show in securing them a long-term working future. When the oil is done, Big Oil reasons, they will simply up sticks and never look back on the unemployment they’d leave behind.

It’s a story all too familiar to the former steel towns of the Central Belt, and it could well be played out again in the North if we go on without a plan for what comes next.

The good news is that what comes next could be an energy revolution to outshine the fossil fuel age; creating more than enough jobs to secure the future of our world-class skilled workforce and renewing the economy not only of Aberdeen, but also of town and country right across the North and the Islands.

Scotland has a quarter of the European Union’s entire offshore wind and marine energy potential, and perhaps the greatest offshore engineering tradition in the world.

As well as Aberdeen’s undisputed position as a global centre for offshore engineering, we have innovative and expert workforces in communities across the country, such as at Nigg, Orkney, Shetland and Campbeltown. Not to mention the huge injection of skills, facilities and money that could be brought to bear if Faslane was converted for socially useful, peaceful work.

By applying our unique skills to our vast renewable resources, we could put Scotland at the forefront of a global industry. We should be not only Europe’s biggest producer of clean energy, but also the place the world comes for renewable technology, engineering and services.

Workers in the oil and gas industry know that it cannot last forever, and that it may not even last until the end of their careers. They know that they may be the last generation of Scottish oil and gas workers, and wonder what the future holds for their children and their communities. Meanwhile, multinational oil firms attempt to exploit this vulnerability, gouging workers who they believe have no alternative.

Cover of the Green MSPs' report Jobs in Scotland's New Economy.
The Green MSPs’ report Jobs in Scotland’s Green Economy (PDF) shows how we could create more than 200,000 green jobs in the next 20 years.
Energy workers deserve so much better than that. They deserve a secure future for themselves and their families. They deserve to be valued for their skills, not squeezed to prop up bonuses and dividends when the declining oil age fail to satisfy corporate greed. They have the ability to build a new energy industry that will underpin Scottish prosperity for generations to come and help save the world into the bargain, and they deserve the chance to fulfil that potential.

The first glimmers of that industry are plain to see. Renewables now supply more than half of Scotland’s electricity demand, and just this week Vattenfall announced a £300m investment to build the 11-turbine, 92.4MW European Offshore Wind Development Centre in Aberdeen Bay.

But without a concerted, ambitious plan to transition from the fossil era to the clean energy age we could easily fall short of our potential. Currently-planned projects aren’t yet enough to hit the Scottish Government target of meeting 100% of our electricity needs from renewables by 2020, and the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee warned this week that uncertainty over the UK Government’s commitment to renewables could threaten future growth.

And a piecemeal, wait-and-see strategy does nothing to guarantee the futures of present oil and gas workers: they need to know where and when their future jobs are coming, and they need a guarantee of extra training or financial help if they need them.

So I encourage the Scottish Government to work with unions, employers, universities and colleges, industry bodies and all willing political parties – certainly the Greens are ready to help – to create a comprehensive and genuinely ambitious industrial strategy that maps a detailed route from the fossil-fuel economy of the 20th century to the renewable boom of the 21st century and beyond.

There’s no question that clean energy is our future; the choice we have to make now is whether we lead the world into that bright future, or merely follow it.

John asks Nicola Sturgeon to save Argyll training jobs

Click here to read John Finnie's letter to Nicola Sturgeon.
Click here to read John Finnie’s letter to Nicola Sturgeon.
John has appealed to the First Minister to save the jobs of 16 Argyll workers who provide vital employability training to help others into work.

Argyll Training Ltd, who provide employability training on behalf of government, is at a “critical point” as a result of cuts to the Scottish Government’s Employability Fund, changes to the funding of Modern Apprenticeships, and the gap between the end of UK Government schemes and the start of devolved replacements.

The well-respected training provider has already been forced to close offices in Campbeltown and Rothesay. Four staff have taken voluntary redundancy, and the remaining 16 employees have been given 90 days’ notice.

John made a request to raise the issue with Nicola Sturgeon in person at yesterday’s First Ministers’ Questions, but was not selected. Instead, he has written to the First Minister directly.

He said:

“The closure of Argyll Training would be a disaster for the area. Argyll’s economy has limitless potential but right now it is undeniably fragile, and it can ill afford to lose these jobs or the invaluable training they provide.

“The First Minister has committed to creating jobs, improving skills, supporting the rural economy and reversing population decline – goals that will all be set back if this vital service is lost.

“This is a critical point. Without action, Argyll Training’s 16 remaining staff will be unemployed in three months’ time. I sincerely hope that Nicola Sturgeon will move quickly to prevent this body blow to the Argyll economy.”

Read John’s letter to Nicola Sturgeon here.

Multi-million pound windfarm deal for Nigg Energy Park

Cover of the Green MSPs' report Jobs in Scotland's New Economy.
Click to download the Green MSPs’ report Jobs in Scotland’s Green Economy (PDF).
John Finnie has congratulated Nigg Energy Park on securing a multi-million pound contract of works on the new Beatrice Offshore Windfarm.

The deal between Global Energy Group, which runs the Nigg facility, and engineering giant Siemens is expected to secure around 100 jobs, with work due to begin in spring 2018.

The Beatrice windfarm, to be constructed off the coast of Caithness between 2017 and 2019, will almost quadruple Scotland’s offshore wind energy capacity.

John said the deal showed the potential of the green-collar economy in the Highlands, but argued far more could be done to take full advantage of our opportunities:

“I’m so pleased for Nigg! This contract will secure around 100 green jobs and demonstrates the port’s potential as a major renewable energy centre.

“With bold national action, these 100 jobs could be just a drop in the ocean. The Green MSPs’ report Jobs in Scotland’s New Economy showed how Scotland could create over 200,000 green-collar jobs in the next 20 years.

“Today’s success for Nigg is a glimpse of how our green energy potential can create the high-quality jobs that will underpin a fair economy and a fair society. To make that a reality, we need a decisive government plan make the most of our natural advantages and our engineering skill, securing workers’ livelihoods as we lead the way from oil and gas to the energy sources of the future.”

“We will not pursue growth for growth’s sake” – John’s speech in the debate on Scotland’s Economy

John spoke in today’s debate on Scotland’s economy on behalf of the Scottish Greens. The debate discussed this motion by the new Cabinet Secretary for the Economy:

Motion S5M-00212: Keith Brown, Clackmannanshire and Dunblane, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 25/05/2016
Taking Scotland Forward – Scotland’s Economy, Short Term Resilience and Long Term Opportunities

That the Parliament recognises the importance of a strong economy to underpin strong public services; recognises recent successes, such as Scotland securing more foreign development investment projects in 2015 than any other part of the UK outside London, but also acknowledges key challenges, including those facing the oil and gas industry and the renewables sector; supports a focus on improving productivity through innovation, investment, internationalisation and tackling inequality, and commits to take action in support of Scotland’s economy, including extending broadband, investing in infrastructure and building the skills and talents of Scotland’s people.

John’s speech is below. You can see it in the full debate transcript here, or watch it on YouTube here.

John Finnie:

The Scottish Government motion talks about “key challenges … facing the oil and gas industry,” and the Labour amendment alludes to the issue, as did the cabinet secretary in his opening speech. The Scottish Green Party sees the situation as a great opportunity. We believe that we must secure a strong and diverse economy for the future, and that the economy should offer security, jobs and decent livelihoods.

The oil and gas sector does not represent long-term security. Indeed, that is confirmed by the comments about fossil fuel investment that were made by Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England. It is certainly a fact that using a finite resource — which we cannot burn anyway — is not a route to a sustainable future. Therefore, we need a managed transition. The Scottish Government can play a pivotal role in that or we can let neoliberal forces shape the future for us — I think members know which option we in the Green Party would prefer.

The First Minister talked about legislating to establish a new and more testing target for 2020. We know that setting targets is not a problem for us; achieving them is, and we all share responsibility in that regard. Indeed, the First Minister talked about looking for support from across the Parliament for “the bold and sometimes controversial actions that we will need to take to meet that target.”

That is very exciting, and I look forward to that. We want boldness, and the Government will have support from the Scottish Green Party if its proposals are truly bold

The First Minister went on to talk about living “up to our moral obligations”.

As we know, those moral obligations are not just for Scotland or the rest of these islands. They are not even just for the continent. They are for the planet. It is important that we recognise that.

What there will not be support for from the Scottish Green Party is extolling a UK chancellor who has visited austerity, and all the grief that comes with it, on us in order to give bigger and bigger tax breaks to obscenely wealthy multinational corporations who go further and deeper for resources — resources that we cannot use anyway if we are genuinely concerned about those moral obligations.

As the First Minister said, there is “a massive economic opportunity”. We hope that the rationale for that comment was that the First Minister and her officials had digested the wonderful report commissioned by Green MSPs, “Jobs in Scotland’s New Economy”. She may not yet be using the language of the report, which talked about our opportunity to move “from energy colonialism to energy democracy”.

However, we all recognise that a transformation to a just, low-carbon economy is about reducing dependency on distant multinational corporations.

Frustrated as I am by the reduced time that I have been given for my speech, I will say that it is quite apparent that the Scottish Green Party uses different language. We will not pursue growth for growth’s sake. We recognise that, to enjoy a prosperous future, we must begin the transition to a sustainable green economy. We support Scotland’s diverse economy, with investment in sustainable industries and those that improve quality of life and reduce carbon emissions. We want an economy that prioritises fair pay and breaks the economics of austerity. We want the more equal society that — as a number of members have alluded to — the vast majority of us in here want.

We will support the Scottish Government motion at decision time. The motion talks about “strong public services” — there is a serious debate to be had about how those are to be funded—and “key challenges”. Most important, it talks about “tackling inequality”. If we go about the governorship of our economy in an appropriate way, we can have a more just and sustainable future.

Green jobs plan promises renaissance for Highlands and Islands

Cover of the Green MSPs' report <em>Jobs in Scotland's New Economy</em>.
Click to download the Green MSPs’ report Jobs in Scotland’s Green Economy (PDF).
John Finnie has warmly welcomed research from the Scottish Green MSPs which shows how the Highlands and Islands could share in 200,000 new green jobs in strengths such as renewable energy, oil and gas decommissioning, home insulation and forestry. John said the Green proposals would mean a “renaissance” for the economy of the Highlands and Islands.

The report, Jobs in Scotland’s New Economy, calls on government to capitalise on Scotland’s engineering skills and natural resources to put the country at the forefront of the new industries that will replace oil and gas. It was published this week by the Green MSPs Patrick Harvie and Alison Johnstone.

John said:

“The energy industry is key to the Highlands and Islands, from our oil and gas expertise in Orkney or Nigg, to our pioneering of wind power and marine renewables.

“We all know oil and gas won’t last for ever, and we owe it to the workers in that industry to have a plan that uses their skills to build the energy economy of the future. We owe it to our young people’s future to generate jobs in industries like forestry and home insulation that can’t be shipped away to a head office central belt or London. I’m very grateful to the Green MSPs for this research that shows just how exciting that future could be for the Highlands and Islands.”

Offshore renewables in the Islands and West Highlands

“Scotland has perhaps the greatest engineering tradition in the world, and one quarter of the European Union’s entire offshore wind and marine energy potential, most of which lies off the shores of Shetland, the Western Isles and the West Highlands, and most of which goes unused. Relying on multinational businesses has brought us delays to the interconnectors the islands, underdevelopment of renewables and the pointless push to drill oil we won’t be able to burn. The Greens’ report proposes bypassing corporate inertia by setting up a publicly-owned renewables company to drive forward offshore wind, tidal and wave energy developments, with the profits coming back to the people.”

Reforestation

“Much of the Highlands remains scoured clean of its natural woodland. Only 17% of our land is forest, compared to an EU average of 37%. The report proposes increasing our forest land by half, creating around 17,000 jobs in timber, tourism, recreation, and harvesting the biomass that would supply a renovated and publicly-owned Grangemouth for the production of biofuels and bioplastics.”

Insulating homes

“The Green MSP Alison Johnstone has already persuaded the Scottish Government to make insulating homes a national infrastructure priority. That’s especially important in the Highlands and Islands, where we have above-average fuel poverty and below-average housing stock. By creating jobs, cutting bills, and reducing ill-health, making all our homes energy efficient would be one of the most effective investments the Scottish Government could make.”

Oil and gas decommissioning at Nigg

“With 470 North Sea platforms and 10,000km of pipeline coming to the end of their lives in the next 30 years, we have an opportunity to become a world leader in decommissioning. We would create thousands of jobs in decommissioning our own fields, before exporting those services to other oil and gas fields around the world. Fabrication yards like the one at Nigg would have a new lease of life, potentially employing many more skilled workers than at present. But when the massive Brent Delta platform is decommissioned this year, the work will go to Teeside – we need decisive action if Scotland is to take the lead.”

Putting Orkney at the centre of the marine economy

“Orkney is poised to become an international centre for the marine economy, with a fantastic location and its legendary natural harbour in Scapa Flow. It’s already home to the European Marine Energy Centre, and the investment proposed by the Greens’ plan would expand that to a high-tech marine campus with hundreds of jobs in research, fabrication and maintenance. However, no new industry thrives without government support, and the bailout of Grangemouth contrasted with the collapse of EMEC-based Pelamis shows we still haven’t quite got our priorities straight.”

Seize the opportunity

“The Highlands and Islands’ colossal green energy potential can create the high-quality jobs that will underpin a fair economy and a fair society, but none of this will happen by accident. We need decisive government action, while we can still reap the benefits of being first into the race, to make sure that these enormous opportunities don’t pass us by.”

The report makes a wide range of policy recommendations, including:

  • Creating a publicly-owned renewables company to encourage offshore wind, tidal and wave developments
  • Prioritising North Sea decommissioning work
  • Taking the Grangemouth refinery and petrochemicals plant into public ownership
  • Converting Grangemouth to make and use synthetic gas to enable a long-term future
  • Launching a national insulation retrofit programme
  • Launching a large-scale reforesting programme
  • Making available support packages for fossil fuel workers to aid their transition to new sectors