The UK's most senior minister for Scottish issues was branded “callous and stupid” by trade unions over comments that the fabrication industry “needs to be better” at producing turbine jackets, fuelling a growing row in Scotland over local content for offshore wind.
Alister Jack, Scottish secretary for the UK government in London, caused uproar after telling MPs that the reason wind fabrication work was going abroad was “the market economy” and the UK should get better at pricing fabrication work.
His comments follow particular criticism of local content provisions and the jobs likely to be generated by EDF’s 448MW Neart Na Gaoithe (NNG) offshore wind farm, with the BiFab yards in Scotland awaiting confirmation of an eight-jacket order.
Asked by shadow Scotland secretary Tony Lloyd about how many of the 1,000-jobs commitment made by EDF have so far been created in the UK, Jack replied “I don’t know the answer”.
Trade unions GMB and Unite have warned that they believe EDF is preparing to award the majority of fabrication work for the NNG wind farm to an Indonesian construction yard.
“I don’t dispute that bringing wind turbines from Indonesia is not the answer,” said Jack. “We need to find a better way of efficiently delivering them in the UK.”
The general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) Grahame Smith said “it is both callous and stupid to brush away concerns from workers and local communities with a blasé reference to the market economy”.
Smith said offshore wind is subsidised by Scottish energy users through their fuel bills, even as hundreds of thousands live in fuel poverty. “Meanwhile workers in Scotland’s fabrication yards are losing out on work that is being shipped from tax-free zones in Indonesia.
“Markets don’t just happen, they are created and regulated by government and they need its intervention to function effectively,” he added.
Smith accused the Scottish secretary of being “a long way off message” with his comments.
GMB Scotland organiser Hazel Nolan said “Jack had unwittingly revealed the truth: the UK government has washed their hands of their responsibility to deliver renewables jobs here in the UK.
“Far from ‘the market economy at work’, what we are seeing is yards here in the UK being abandoned by our government and left to compete with heavily state subsidised yards abroad.”
The Scottish government last month pledged action to keep more offshore wind contracts within its borders through compulsory “supply-chain commitments” with project developers, following strong criticism from unions and the supply chain over the number of orders and jobs vanishing abroad.
GMB last year accused Iberdrola-owned ScottishPower of “rank hypocrisy” for backing major green initiatives in Scotland while shipping in giant offshore wind components from Spain and the Middle East “on oil-burning barges” for North Sea projects.
Scotland’s putative ambitions to build a new energy economy around offshore wind power as the UK’s oil & gas sector further declines have so far failed to materialise, a reality not helped by the fact that the only significant project award off Scotland in the latest Contracts for Difference (CfD) auction was SSE’s giant Seagreen development.
Preferred supplier deals for the up-to-1.1GW Seagreen have gone to Japanese-Danish OEM MHI Vestas for the turbines, France's Nexans for the cabling, and London-headquartered Petrofac for the wind farm’s substations.
Wheelhouse said last month that it was the most recent CfD auction’s “artificially low 6GW cap which squeezed out many Scottish projects”.