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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain


Hot air and cold steel

by New Worker correspondent

ON MONDAY it was announced that £700 million had been raised in an auction for 17 seabed plots for huge wind power developments around the northern Scottish coasts. They were sold off by Crown Estates Scotland in the first leasing round since 2012. The proceeds are going into the coffers of the SNP government.

The main purchasers were such multi-nationals as Scottish Power, Shell New Energies, BP Alternative Energy Investments and SSE Renewables, who optioned agreements which reserve the rights to specific areas of seabed.

Crown Estate Scotland chief executive Simon Hodge crowed: “Today’s results are a fantastic vote of confidence in Scotland’s ability to transform our energy sector. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (who seems to share the same speechwriter) said: “The scale of opportunity represented in today’s announcement exceeds our current planning assumption of 10 GW of offshore wind – which is a massive vote of confidence in Scotland.”

The World Wildlife Fund for Scotland agreed, claiming that: “Each of these projects could create hundreds of jobs and will have a role in helping put Scotland on a path to a green recovery.”

There were predictably some critics. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said it would “accelerate some seabird species towards extinction in Scotland” and the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation warned that their industry’s interests were at risk.

More significantly, the Scottish TUC also raised a note of scepticism. Roz Foyer, its General Secretary, warned that: “Over the past six months the public relations teams of the prospective bidders have been in overdrive, promising the long overdue renewables jobs revolution. Now we need to make that happen.

“The First Minister says that we have every reason to be optimistic about the number of jobs that can be created, but our skills workers in oil and gas need more than words given the experience over the past decade tells us that jobs in offshore wind are consistently offshored overseas.”

She is right to be wary of the lack of firm commitments. Regular readers will be aware of the sorry saga of the Bifab yards, which last February were sold off for a pittance by the SNP Government after they had unsuccessfully invested £37.4 million since 2017 in the failing company whose yards were perfectly capable of producing components for wind turbines that were required for a wind farm just a few miles off-shore.

vandalism

“It would be nothing short of economic vandalism if we fail to build a thriving supply chain in Scotland,” she concluded.

On Tuesday other unions joined in the criticism. Richard Hardy, Scottish national secretary for Prospect, said: “We have seen decades of Governments failing to deliver on job promises in the renewable sector. It’s not good for Scotland or Scottish workers if the main beneficiaries of today’s announcement are factories and workers in the Middle East, China and Indonesia, something we have seen all too frequently in the past.” Perhaps more in hope than expectation, he demanded that it “is the time for the Scottish government to step up to the plate and deliver”.

insecurity

Mick Lynch, of the transport (and to a lesser extent oil workers) union RMT, added that: “Whilst ScotWind provides security for oil and gas majors, Scotland’s manufacturing and offshore workers continue to face chronic job insecurity and a lack of viable re-training routes.”

He also deplored the fact that: “Crown Estate Scotland’s supply chain requirements in the ScotWind process set lower local content targets than the Tories in Westminster, so it is essential for investment in local content at every stage of these mammoth projects to be done in consultation with trade unions.”

A different point was made by Alba Party MP Kenny MacAskill, who denounced his former SMP colleagues for “selling off the family silver cheap while Scots families face crippling energy bills”. Instead, oil companies should make annual payments into the public purse rather than the present one-off payment.

This not the only example of large-scale projects bringing little benefit to British industry. Earlier this month Unite criticised the Department for Transport (DfT) for failing to ensure that the massive HS2 rail undertaking uses using steel produced in the UK.

After parliamentary probing by Birkenhead’s Labour MP Mick Whitley it appears that much of the millions of tons of steel necessary for the project will be produced abroad. Junior Transport minister Andrew Stephenson replied that: “There is no formal target for the use of UK steel on HS2”. Instead he claimed that the Government was “committed to working with the UK steel industry to ensure it is engaged, informed and prepared to seize the contract opportunities that will be generated by HS2”, a statement which does not mean a lot.

clear targets

Sharon Graham, Unite’s General Secretary, demanded that: “The government must immediately develop clear targets on UK steel usage on publicly funded construction projects.” She added that: “In the case of HS2, UK producers should have a paramount place in producing steel for the project. Surely that is economic common sense?” One wonders if her docker members and those in the transport industry agree about the undesirability of imports.

The union’s national officer for the steel industry Harish Patel added that: “Steel is a key foundation industry and it is absolutely essential that it receives practical support from the government. That should start with ensuring that government funded projects always purchase UK steel whenever possible.”

deplored

The officially pro-Remain union deplored the fact that with Britain having left European Union it would be easier to give contracts to domestic industry.

Monday also saw British Steel proudly announce that it was donating steel to help with the rebuilding of the Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum, which partly collapsed four years ago. It is to be hoped that the steel industry has a better future than merely being a museum piece, but it could still be without some form of state support or encouragement. It is all too easy for large international companies to win contracts by very low bids in order to bankrupt rivals who will then be out of the running in future bids.