Boris Johnson Seeks Green Jobs for U.K. as Unemployment Surges

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seeking advice from industry on how to create green jobs in the U.K. as unemployment rose at the quickest pace in a decade.

The government is gathering a green jobs taskforce that seeks to create employment for 2 million by 2030. Johnson is planning a major speech on how he will spur an industrial revolution in clean-energy technologies, part of a series of initiative leading up to global talks on climate change the U.K. will host next year.

The move also is aimed at helping the U.K. economy recover from the battering delivered by coronavirus lockdowns, with the number of workers being made redundant hitting a record. With the government weighing a ban on diesel cars by 2035, it’s seeking to spur new technologies like electric vehicles and offshore wind power that can absorb workers from industries that are being wound down.

“Businesses desperately need a framework to plan and there’s been a lack of certainty about the future direction of travel,” said Kate Bell, head of rights, international, social and economic at the Trades Union Congress. “There is a need to get moving quickly.”

The government has once again delayed a much anticipated energy policy paper that will set a direction for how the U.K. will meet its target to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It will be key for investors who want to create jobs in technologies such as nuclear, hydrogen and carbon capture that are key to reducing pollution but too expensive to work without subsidy. Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng on Thursday said it will be published by December.

Boris Johnson Seeks Green Jobs for U.K. as Unemployment Surges

The urgency to create more jobs is building. Despite unprecedented government support to help pay workers wages, U.K. unemployment rose the most since the financial crisis over the summer, taking the jobless rate to 4.8%.

Job cuts, known as redundancies in the U.K., increased by a record 181,000 in the third quarter and look set to peak when the furlough program is withdrawn at the end of March. With the pandemic reshaping the jobs landscape, these lay offs risk becoming entrenched unemployment if workers aren’t able to find or fit the skill requirements of newly created roles.

The TUC has identified 1.24 million jobs that could be created across the U.K. in two years by investing 85 billion pounds in areas such as home insulation, electric car charging, and planting trees.

The new taskforce will meet for the first time on Thursday and seeks to create jobs for both now and in the long term. It will include representatives from Orsted AS, Nissan Motor Co., Tata Steel Ltd., BP Plc and the TUC.

One of the biggest challenges will be to find new jobs for the people working in dirty industries. It’s a problem the U.K. faced three decades ago when then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher closed coal mines in the north of England and South Wales, leading to mass unemployment in industrial heartlands -- the effects of which are still felt today.

Drax Group Plc, which runs what was once the U.K.’s biggest coal plant will cut more than 200 jobs when it closes its final coal units at the end of March. “The next generation of green jobs that will come with carbon capture and storage won’t become a reality for 3 or 4 more years,” said Will Gardiner, Drax’s chief executive officer.

Research by Cambridge Econometrics, on behalf of Greenpeace, this week found a 2030 ban on petrol, diesel and hybrid cars and vans could create 32,000 new jobs by the same year and increase gross domestic product by 0.2% -- or 4.2 billion pounds.

Boris Johnson Seeks Green Jobs for U.K. as Unemployment Surges

That could help more people follow in the footsteps of George Hull, an engineer who left his job building diesel engines for Jaguar Land Rover Automotive Plc to focus on electric cars.

Now he works at the U.K. Battery Industrialization Centre -- a 130 million pound government backed project that helps to scale up new battery technologies and teach people the skills needed to work in the industry.

When Hull joined JLR in 2011, the company was betting millions on the future of the internal combustion engine. But a decade later it’s ceased production of diesel and petrol cars to focus on batteries.

“You could tell the end of the road is coming for internal combustion engines. I was keen to learn new skills,” he said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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