Alex Salmond’s renewable energy revolution may only deliver a third of the 40,000 jobs he has predicted, the Auditor General has warned.
The First Minister has championed renewables, not only as the way forward for Scotland’s energy needs, but also as a major employer for the future.
However, the Scottish Government’s claims that 40,000 jobs could be created through renewables was questioned by Scotland’s Auditor General who warns that the reality might be as few as 13,000 new jobs.
The Auditor General also says that progress is slower than the government expected and that all the 293 wind farm projects which are currently under construction or at the planning stage might not be enough to meet the Scottish Government’s energy targets.
Mr Salmond’s administration has adopted one of the most extreme renewables policies in the world.The First Minister wants Scotland to produce the equivalent of 100 per cent of its electricity from renewables by 2020.
His government has also claimed this renewables revolution would create up to 40,000 jobs and generate £30 billion of investment in Scotland.
Indeed, the SNP manifesto in 2011 went even further, promising to create 130,000 renewable jobs in Scotland by 2020.
But all these job claims have now come under scrutiny by Audit Scotland, the body set up under the Auditor General to analyse and examine how public money is spent.
According to the body’s latest report, the figure of “up to 40,000 jobs” is the highest of a series of estimates made by Skills Development Scotland two years ago and that, actually, the number of jobs created by renewables might be as low as 13,000.
In a thinly veiled rebuke to the Scottish Government, Audit Scotland says ministers have to “develop more realistic employment projections”.
The report also warns that the amount of public money being ploughed into renewable energy in Scotland is about to rise significantly.They found that although £209 million had been spent in the last ten years, this was going to be dwarfed by the amounts due to be spent in the next two years.
The report states: “Funding will rise sharply over the next two years, with a total budget of £264 million available.”
The Auditor General also points out that the progress of developing renewable energy projects is much slower than the Scottish Government anticipated, mostly because of changes at a UK Government level and delays in the private sector.
However, as a result, the delays are backing up the line all the way to the public bodies which have money to spend but nothing to spend it on.
Caroline Gardner, the Auditor General for Scotland, said that although the Scottish Government was showing clear leadership on renewables, it needed to do more to make sure its targets were achieved.
She said: “While there are aspects the Scottish Government and other public bodies should improve, the main challenge is that private sector investment has been slower than expected, reflecting the state of the economy and the uncertainty of developments in the wider UK energy sector.”
The Tories were more dismissive of the Scottish Government’s approach to renewable jobs. Scottish Conservative energy spokesman Murdo Fraser said: “The SNP has form for misleading the public on renewables jobs after claiming 18,000 worked in the sector, when in-fact it’s only 11,000.
“It seems the First Minister fibs about the present, and now his government are trying to dupe the public about the future too.”
Fergus Ewing, the Scottish energy minister, insisted that Scotland needed both onshore and offshore wind energy to “decarbonise” its electricity system.
But he added: “We recognise, as the report does, that renewable energy projects are progressing more slowly than anticipated owing to factors such as the current economic climate and changes in UK energy policy.
“With the uncertainty surrounding UK energy policy we are responding to these market conditions by re-profiling our renewables budget, including our flagship Renewable Energy Investment Fund, so that the sector can be confident of continuing support into the future.”