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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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