A green recovery from coronavirus could create hundreds of thousands of green jobs. But how should government, business and education providers work together to ensure that people from all backgrounds have the skills to benefit from these opportunities? How do we lay the foundations for new green jobs across all regions of the UK, including those currently dependent on high carbon industries? And what’s the role of local and regional government?
A new report from the government’s green jobs task force – a group featuring voices from business, unions, colleges and academia – has much to welcome. It recognises the importance of policy measures to create demand and unlock public and private investment, there is a focus on good quality jobs in the green sector, and the report speaks to the importance of attracting a diverse workforce.
But there was no local government representation on the taskforce. As a result, not enough attention was given to the local dimension of the green recovery. Councils will play a key role in delivering the transition to net zero, something that has been acknowledged by the UK’s Climate Change Committee and by the government itself. This is particularly true when it comes to green skills and training.
Council procurement can be a big lever for the development of low carbon skills. In 2019/20 UK councils spent around £63bn per year on goods and services. If they insist these goods and services are as low carbon as possible, they will incentivise investment in green skills by suppliers. New government grant funding for decarbonisation projects provides additional opportunities to develop local skills. For example, councils will be spending billions on retrofit (domestic energy efficiency upgrades) and low carbon heat projects, with the potential to work with local colleges to upskill installers and offer apprenticeships.
Local government is well placed to understand how employer demand is changing with decarbonisation, and how the skills of local people need to change as a result. However, authorities lack the resources to take action. The current employment and skills system is highly centralised, with fragmented pots of funding. The Local Government Association and others rightly argue that further devolution of skills policy and budgets would create greater impact, by allowing councils, working in partnership with local businesses and colleges, to tailor programmes to their own green transition priorities.
The Scottish government showed how effectively this could be done when they set 16 jobs and skills targets as part of procurement for their fuel poverty programme. Warmworks, the organisation chosen to deliver the scheme six years ago, has worked with installers across Scotland to create 140 apprenticeships, 2,500 training opportunities and 600 jobs. As well as using procurement as a tool, the Scottish government is also investing in further education provision, providing capital for renewable and energy efficiency training equipment and the training of teaching staff.
This approach could be replicated at an English regional level, with groups of councils and combined authorities using procurement to set skills targets, and working with local colleges and employers to deliver training. A place-based approach also allows the community to play its part, including charities and community groups focused on boosting green skills.
One pioneer in this area is Carbon Co-op, who have trained hundreds of builders on retrofit skills in Greater Manchester. This has been done through a network that also helps the trained-up workers access a pipeline of projects.
The government’s green jobs taskforce is a welcome first step in tackling our green jobs and skill challenges. But the taskforce must include the voice of local authorities so that place is considered, and policies that support a locally-led approach to the green recovery are prioritised.
Of course, much more is needed to fully unlock the power of local authorities to achieve change in this area. Ashden is part of the Blueprint Coalition of local government organisations, environmental NGOs and research institutions. Our blueprint for accelerating climate action and a green recovery at the local level sets out the national leadership, policies, powers and funding needed to empower local authorities to deliver at scale including on green skills development.
A locally-lead green recovery is in the best interests of citizens and the country. But this inclusive, effective approach demands real commitment from central government. It’s time ministers put their trust in local authorities, and the communities they serve.
Cara Jenkinson is cities manager at the climate solutions charity Ashden.