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Energy Sector Jobs

Volume 709: debated on Tuesday 22 February 2022

The Government are committed to protecting jobs across the energy sector, which already employs over 700,000 people across the UK and is creating thousands of new jobs through our net-zero strategy.

I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as a member of Unite the union, which tells me that OVO Energy has a tangled web of companies into which £40 million has been salted away without any clear indication of what the money is or where it is coming from. Meanwhile, it is making 1,700 of its employees—a quarter of its workforce—redundant and its boss Stephen Fitzpatrick has said that they should keep warm by doing star jumps and that he is doing them a favour by sacking them because of the jobs market. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is about time that OVO stopped threatening to sack so many of its employees and opened up its books so that we can see where all the money is going?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I speak to the operators of energy suppliers the whole time, as does my right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change, and we have had many concerns about the practices of some of these businesses and are very mindful of some of the accusations being made against OVO. I speak to Mr Fitzpatrick on a regular basis and I will absolutely pass on the hon. Gentleman’s concerns to Mr Fitzpatrick directly.

The other day I noticed that the Government said they were going to help and encourage people to invest more in the gas industry and help to produce more, but then I heard a statement contradicting that from my right hon. Friend’s Department. Will my right hon. Friend clarify whether the Government are prepared to see more gas extracted and greater licences?

I and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change have been very clear about the course we want to pursue. We do not believe it is the right thing simply to switch off the oil and gas sector. Unlike many Opposition Members, we do not believe in simply an extinction of the oil and gas sector; we think oil and gas is critical not only to energy resilience but to developing new technologies such as carbon capture and blue hydrogen production. We have maintained that position consistently for the nearly three years I have been a Minister in this Department.

We have to admire the audacity of the Secretary of State in talking about protecting jobs in the energy industry when of course his Government have presided over the loss of some 35,000 jobs in Scotland’s North sea industry over recent years alone. It gets worse, because this is the same Government who opted not to fund carbon capture and underground storage in the north-east of Scotland, costing some 20,000 new jobs. Can the Secretary of State clarify why on earth the public should trust the Tories when it comes to jobs?

I will make three points about that. Acorn was an excellent project, and we want to see it developed very soon in the next wave, which we want to accelerate. There is an extraordinary arrogance in Members of the Scottish National party giving us lectures about energy when they are not committed to nuclear and are in bed with the Greens who simply want to flick the switch to turn off oil and gas in their own country. I am very happy to compare our record as job creators with the hon. Gentleman’s Extinction Rebellion approach to the North sea.

I am afraid the Secretary of State does his reputation no good whatsoever by propagating such unfounded garbage. If he wants to talk about records, let us talk about records, because despite energy being reserved to this place, it is the Scottish Government who have delivered the £62 million energy transition fund; it is the Scottish Government who have just delivered £30 million to Aberdeen South harbour; it is the Scottish Government who have just delivered £15 million to the Aberdeen hydrogen hub; and of course it is the Scottish Government who have just delivered a £500 million just transition fund for the entire north-east of Scotland. After taking out some £375 billion from Scotland’s natural resources, when are the Tories going to give back?

I am not going to take any lectures from the hon. Gentleman about energy policy. His party is committed to a job-destroying coalition with the Greens, who want to switch the lights off the North sea. Everybody knows that; that is why investment is very difficult to attract, and our job is to militate against their Extinction Rebellion approach and encourage investment, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) said, in our North sea.

Jobs in the energy sector depend on an effective market, and that depends on consumers exercising their choice to change supplier, but switching fell by 73% in the year just gone compared with the previous year. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that we get back to an effective energy market?

There has been a critical issue with very high wholesale prices, which as I speak are about 200p a therm, whereas at the beginning of last year they were 50p a therm or lower; there has been a quadrupling of the price. The energy price cap has protected consumers, but we are talking to Ofgem all the time about how we can refine the cap to make it more sensitive to wholesale prices in the market.

Today marks the start of International Energy Week, formerly International Petroleum Week. The Secretary of State was billed to open the event, and he will know that, despite the rebrand, the lead sponsors include fossil fuel giant BP, which is investing just 2.3% of annual capital expenditure into the jobs-rich green energy sector. When will the Government end their cosy relationship with the fossil fuel dinosaurs and replace the outdated duty to maximise economic recovery with a duty to minimise the extraction of North sea oil and gas and to maximise clean, green jobs instead?

The hon. Lady will know that we have committed to the “Net Zero Strategy”, which was lauded across the world as a world-beating document. She also knows that, as I have said repeatedly and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change has also said, we are committed to a transition, not extinction. We have to work with fossil fuel companies and the industry to transition to a net zero future, and that is exactly what we are prepared to do.