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Cold wind blows for jobs in offshore power

9 April 2019

Offshore wind far near Redcar, North Yorkshire. Photo pauljrobinson/shutterstock.com.

The lack of Scottish jobs in its burgeoning offshore wind farm sector was highlighted last week (3 April) as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon once again gave evasive replies when asked why promises that substantial amounts of work would be placed in Scottish yards have not been fulfilled.

The issue has flared up over the huge Moray East wind farm project, which will generate 950 MW, at half the cost of earlier sites. It is one of many new developments in Britain’s coastal waters. Our geography and engineering skills have made it possible for Britain to be one of the leading countries in the world for this type of power generation.

But Scottish yards are being shut out of contracts for the new work, even though they have proven expertise in offshore oil and gas platforms to build turbine installations. These includes Burntisland Fabrications (BiFab), which was saved from closure in 2018 after a work-in.

Nearly all the contracts for Moray East have gone to overseas firms, though some fabrication for Moray will take place at the Newcastle facility of Smulders, a firm mainly based in Belgium. 

BiFab workers had expected to benefit from commitments to bring work to Scotland made at the time the projects were approved. But the company was awarded only a small part of the first £200 million construction contract at Moray East and also lost out for the Kincardine floating wind farm project. The company’s future is now uncertain.


Sturgeon said she believed a bright future was possible for BiFab once issues “unfair competition” are resolved. But she did not say how that could happen or address the causes. 

In March the UK government boasted that so-called “green collar” (environmental) jobs in offshore wind were set to triple to 27,000 by 2030. Unless action is taken, many or even most of those jobs will be abroad.

Responding to the government’s announcement, the GMB union said, “The truth however is that to date the so-called ‘green jobs revolution’ has largely been a figment of the imagination of politicians of all parties and those pushing for an over reliance on renewables – with all the risks to our future energy supply and economic competitiveness.

“The track record so far has been one of work for foreign companies or poorly paid, casualised employment. Just ask the workers at BiFab in Fife about new green jobs and a just transition.”

“State funded European energy and engineering firms…are carving-up thousands of jobs."

Calling for political intervention, the union said, “The truth is that state funded European energy and engineering firms, backed by Far East finance and Middle East sovereign wealth funds, are carving-up thousands of jobs and billions of pounds from our renewables sector, and firms like BiFab are left fighting for scraps off our own table.”

Call for new rules

The energy minister responsible is EU-enthusiast Claire Perry. The GMB pointed out that the government will need new rules about renewable energy sources if her vision is actually to be achieved with decent, well-paid and skilled jobs.

“Companies in receipt of taxpayer subsidy must be required to source the work and jobs in the UK, with a strict condition they cannot be registered in tax havens,” said the GMB. “The sector will also need to be covered by collective bargaining agreements.”

Offshore wind farms present opportunities for Britain. But fine words from politicians are not enough. Workers in the industry know this needs planning and commitment to British manufacturing too. But conditions like this run counter to the rules of the EU’s single market – another reason for a clean Brexit.