Skip to main content

Green Skills

Volume 819: debated on Wednesday 9 March 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given to introducing a national green skills strategy to ensure that the workforce has the necessary skills to meet the United Kingdom’s net zero emissions commitments.

My Lords, the Net Zero Strategy sets out our plans to work with industry to create the skilled workforce needed to deliver our net-zero targets. This includes green apprenticeships and retraining boot camps. The Government are establishing a green jobs delivery group, co-chaired by a government Minister and an industry representative, where government, industry and other key stakeholders will work together to deliver the skills needed for net zero.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register and thank the Minister for that Answer. Green skills will be fundamental to economic growth and the levelling-up agenda, as well as to achieving net zero. While I recognise that much is going on in various parts of the forest, will the Government now bring together all the various agencies and departments with business and industry to provide a comprehensive and systematic strategy for skills? I also take the opportunity of the Minister being at the Dispatch Box to ask whether, given the reports in today’s papers about onshore wind, the Government will now give my Private Member’s Bill on the issue fair passage.

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. Before I answer, I will detain the House for a moment to acknowledge that, after 52 years of distinguished service in Parliament, this is the final appearance of my noble friend Lord Tebbit, who is joined by his family in the Public Gallery. I am sure I speak for the whole House in saying that we have been greatly enhanced by his presence here and wish him the very best for his long and happy retirement. We on these Benches will miss him.

Going back to the question of the noble Baroness, she makes a very good point. We are bringing together the Green Jobs Taskforce, chaired by my right honourable friend Minister Hands, with representatives from the DfE, the DWP and all the key departments in Whitehall. With regard to her Private Member’s Bill, we have an energy Bill coming up which will deal with many of these matters.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the great amount of consideration that should be given to the horticultural sector, which can offer so much? It has a shortage and is crying out for skilled jobs. What can my noble friend do to assist?

My noble friend makes a very good point. There are a number of different apprenticeship standards supporting green skills. The horticultural sector is very much a green skill, so I totally agree with her that we want to do all we can to encourage this important sector.

My Lords, I join the Minister in paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, for his long and distinguished service to this House and the other place.

Could the Minister set out for the House the specific skills that the workforce needs to develop and obtain to meet the UK’s net zero commitments?

That is a very wide-ranging question. There are a number of them, but I can give some examples: the wave 1 and 2 skills bootcamps in green subjects, such as housing retrofit, solar and nuclear energy, vehicle electrification. We have 40-plus apprenticeship standards in digital, STEM, nuclear, forestry, manufacturing et cetera—there are a number of them.

My Lords, the International Energy Agency confirms that global emissions are again rising fast. Sadly, it looks as though even if we achieve the UK net zero aim, which is commendable and something that we all want to see, those emissions will continue to rise fast and take us further and further away from the Paris targets. Is it not necessary to think about not only skills for our own net zero but skills to develop entirely new initiatives both in the production of low-carbon energy and in carbon absorption, which has been rather neglected and can be met on a much bigger scale—not only by trees but by entirely new strategies which are now being discussed?

Indeed, my noble friend makes a very good point. The UK is responsible for only 1% of worldwide emissions; it is very much a global problem that we have to work internationally to tackle. There are many exciting new developments in a whole range of industries and technologies that we want to encourage as much as possible. Technology could be our friend here.

My Lords, over one-third of our homes are inadequately insulated, and yet after many failed green deals, the industry that will actually deliver the solution to the problem has lost confidence. It says that if it is going to invest in research, equipment and skills training, it wants the confidence of the Government’s home insulation targets placed firmly into legislation. Why have the Government refused?

We are working very closely with the retrofitting insulation industry. The noble Lord is aware that we are spending billions of pounds helping low-income families to upgrade their accommodation in the low-income private sector, social housing and through local authorities. This is a well-advanced programme, and we also have the ECO scheme which spends up to £1 billion a year on green retrofitting measures, so there is a lot going on this sector.

My Lords, over four decades ago there was a similar scheme to try and push green jobs, based on a fairly similar tripartite-plus system. It was not a great success, although it had a lot of support. Will the Minister ask his civil servants to see if there are any lessons to be learned from that experience that will make sure it works now?

I thank the noble Lord for his suggestion based on his long experience in government. I will certainly pass on that suggestion to my ministerial colleague, and I am sure we would want to learn lessons from past experiences.

My Lords, if my noble friend believes the Government’s strategy when it says that green energy will create more jobs at higher pay than producing an equivalent amount of conventional energy, does that not mean it is wasteful, and that green energy must be more expensive than conventional energy?

It is the entire sector, not just the generation of energy; it includes all the retrofitting standards, the upgrading of insulation, new homes built to higher standards and others that have been mentioned. We are confident that there will be a net increase of jobs, but we do have a legally binding commitment to net zero which we need to pursue.

My Lords, I join the Minister in paying tribute to Lord Tebbit, who was inspirational to me, as an 18 year old, to get involved in politics, and I thank him for all his service.

I have a background in recruitment: can the Minister tell me how many individuals he estimates would be needed in, say, the next five years to join a green skills workforce?

It is very hard to put a precise number on that, but I can give my noble friend some figures. Our net zero strategy supports up to 190,000 jobs by the middle of the 2020s, and up to 440,00 jobs by 2030.

My Lords, the major IPCC report out this week said that the shift from incremental change to transformational change was crucial, given the fact that carbon emissions are heading in the wrong direction. Do the Government really think they are finding the true innovation, the true change, rather than just doing business as usual with a bit of greenwash added?

It is very much not business as usual. As the noble Baroness will be aware, we have one of the most ambitious decarbonisation targets in the western world. We have decarbonised faster than most other industrialised countries. I am sorry if the noble Baroness does not like that, but it remains a fact. As I said in an earlier answer, we are responsible for 1% of worldwide emissions. Yes, we need to make progress in this country, but we also have to look at a global scale and work with partners across the world to bring down their emissions as well.

My Lords, can I make a plea to the Government? So often when we talk about green jobs—as has been mentioned already, in fact—it is nearly always around green energy, renewable energy and all of that side, whereas there is a huge need for those skills that are meeting the biodiversity emergency in this country and globally, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, said. In particular, I mean biologists, ecologists, horticulturalists and farm advisers—there is a real shortage of these. If we want that emergency to be solved as well, we need jobs and training in that sector.

My Lords, there is no denying that environmental illiteracy is a major problem in both the public and private sector. What measures are being taken to embrace technologies such as smart meters to change behaviours?

One of my ministerial responsibilities is the smart metering programme, which has quietly gone ahead in the background. I forget the exact figures, but I think we now have 25 million smart meters installed in this country, and the programme is already delivering net benefits. We have launched a publicity drive to drive take-up even further, and we are looking to see what we can do to expand it even more, because smart meters are a very good thing.