A ‘British jobs for British workers’ row erupted yesterday as it emerged that a new £1billion wind farm off the Lincolnshire coast is being maintained by teams of workers flown in from Scandinavia.
As he officially opened the offshore scheme yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg claimed 30,000 British jobs would be created by the end of the decade by investing in renewable energy.
But local MPs and businessmen said this appeared a hollow promise.
Because turbines for the Centrica scheme off Skegness are made in Denmark, Danish and Swedish workers are being drafted in daily to work on them.
Scandinavian Airlines will even begin a six-days-a-week service between Copenhagen and Humberside Airport in October to keep up with demand.
The whole construction of the wind farm was largely foreign, with a French company making the cabling in Germany and Norway and the foundations being manufactured in Holland.
Sam Pick, who runs a renewable energy consultancy, said Britain was in the ‘craziest possible situation’ where the Government was ‘subsidising development to a huge degree but doing absolutely nothing to either guarantee or support UK content’ in offshore wind farms. ‘There are turbines out there in the North Sea which have not touched UK mainland,’ he said.
Labour MP Nic Dakin warned that if the industry did not train British people to service and maintain the turbines, there was little prospect of any domestic jobs premium from the so-called ‘Green revolution’.
Announcing £66million of fresh Government funding for the offshore wind industry, Mr Clegg said the investment would help to make the UK a ‘world leader’ in the sector and create an employment boom, contributing £7billion to the economy.
He compared climate change sceptics who oppose wind farms and other renewable energy developments to the Luddites who smashed machinery during the Industrial Revolution.
‘I think this industry will get bigger and bigger year in year out, which means more jobs in the local area. I know there are many local concerns that the focal work on these wind farms is performed by those flown from elsewhere, yet there are promising signs,’ said Mr Clegg.
‘As a Government we’ve announced an offshore wind strategy that should lead to 30,000 British jobs being created by the end of this decade and we are working with the industry to make sure that the British supply chain are given a fair crack of the whip in the future.’
Mr Clegg hopes the industry will more than quadruple in size by 2020 – at the highest end of government predictions – with half the production coming from domestic firms. But his claims were dismissed by industry experts, who said the targets and job creation predictions were hopelessly optimistic.
They say unless major companies can be persuaded to manufacture wind turbines in the UK, wind farms will continue to be built, but few jobs will go to British workers.
Mr Pick said: ‘If the Government doesn’t succeed in bringing wind farm manufacturing to the UK in the near future then we will miss out on the tens of thousands of jobs that have been promised and they will go to mainland Europe instead.’
Mr Dakin, MP for Scunthorpe, said: ‘If we do not act now, we will be in the same position by 2020 and will have to import skills and expertise while our own school leavers and young adults continue to languish in unemployment.’
The Institute for Public Policy Research, a leading think-tank, also found Mr Clegg’s claims were optimistic and said greater certainty was needed to attract investment.
Generous taxpayer-funded subsidies for wind farms are set to continue until the end of the decade, but foreign energy firms want a longer-term commitment.
Proposals for a new Siemens wind turbine factory in Hull were given planning permission in May last year.
But the German firm wants more concrete promises before it goes ahead with the £80million factory, which would create 700 direct jobs and thousands in the supply chain.
Ministers have promised guaranteed prices – fixed at up to triple the market rate – for electricity from offshore wind until 2019.
They say the financial incentive will make Britain an attractive place to invest and transform our energy supply, but the difference between the wholesale price and the agreed rate will have to be met by consumers.
Dr John Constable, of the Renewable Energy Foundation, a UK charity publishing data on the energy sector, said: ‘Even if the Government’s optimistic assumptions are right, the fact is that wind jobs are soft jobs and dependent on subsidies that increase energy costs and destroy jobs in real businesses.
‘We can’t be sure that the wind jobs will be in the UK, but there is no doubt at all that the jobs lost through high energy costs really will be British.’
Energy Secretary Ed Davey said: ‘Local people can absolutely benefit from the workers who come from abroad.
We want to have a lot more British jobs in the industry, that is why we are publishing the industrial strategy. We want to make sure we get the jobs in the supply chain.
‘At the moment because we are coming from a small base it hasn’t been, but we believe the potential here is huge.’