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Prospect launches Just Transition plan for UK Power Sector

16 December 2020

The shadow minister for climate change, Matthew Pennycook MP, spoke alongside a panel of experts in a webinar for the launch of Prospect’s new discussion paper, A Just Transition for the UK Power Sector.

Joining the Labour MP for Greenwich and Woolwich were Melanie Onn, deputy chief executive of RenewableUK and James Muir, chair of Sheffield City Region’s Enterprise Partnership, which supports local industrial strategy.

Opening event, Sue Ferns, Prospect senior deputy general secretary, said:

“Just Transition is one of three pillars in the climate work that we’re doing in Prospect, along with political lobbying and workplace action. We know from our most recent membership survey that this is a very high priority for members across the union.

“The concept of Just Transition is well established in international policy terms, but I think it’s not well understood among the general population, and sadly there’s very little evidence of it in practice in the UK.”

She added: “We really hope that this piece of work that we’ve done for the power sector will be seen as an example of what could be achieved in other sectors too.”

Panel discussion

Matthew Pennycook MP described Prospect’s new document as a ‘really valuable paper.’

“While there are some nods to Just Transition, you don’t really get a sense that this at the centre of the government’s thinking in terms of Net Zero,” he said.

“All of the time that we hesitate, and we don’t have that comprehensive strategy going forward, it will be more disruptive for people and communities.”

The shadow minister noted that the UK had previously handled periods of industrial change poorly, and that it was time to learn from our “mistakes.”

“If we do manage this properly there are huge opportunities for the green transition in terms of jobs and in terms of addressing of long-standing and deep-rooted inequalities, not least regional inequalities.”

RenewableUK represents more than 400 companies in the renewables sector from large multinationals to smaller companies in the supply chain.

Melanie Onn, its deputy chief executive, highlighted the giant strides that renewables had taken in the last decade.

“Technologies that were seen as being expensive and inefficient are rapidly gaining ground. We saw periods last year and this year where we’ve been entirely coal free for weeks and weeks on end,” she told the webinar.

“The wind sector is providing increasing amounts of energy and it is now seen as a sector that is able to become the backbone of the future energy system for the UK, not least because we are uniquely placed when it comes to our geography.”

She added that the transition “is happening, that it is happening increasingly quickly and there was no turning back.”

The UK’s hosting of the UN’s Climate Change Conference next year, COP26, should put a greater focus on Just Transition and companies such as SSE were already putting strategies in place to make Just Transition central to their business, said Melanie.

One of the crucial elements to a Just Transition is engagement with local communities.

James Muir, chair of Sheffield City Region’s Enterprise Partnership, said that Prospect’s new report “resonates very much with the newly published strategic economic plan that we’ve developed.”

“There is no better example of mishandling a transition, a non-just transition, that left South Yorkshire as probably one of the least productive regions economically in the UK. It’s never recovered from that,” he said.

“The current productivity level of the local economy is running more than 30% below the national average, with the consequential impact on the local population. There’s been a replacement of skilled jobs with low-skill, low-paid jobs. That’s the challenge facing us.”

“A Just Transition is about a net gain in total employment, more quality jobs and increasing income, as well as improved social inclusion.”

Discussion paper

The new paper from Prospect is an in-depth analysis of the vital role that the power sector must play in the decarbonisation of the UK economy, and in particular the gradual phasing out of fossil fuels for low carbon sources.

The paper states:

“A key challenge we face is building an appropriate bridge between the jobs in fossil fuel plants that are disappearing and the new low carbon jobs that will be created: in other words, the challenge of ensuring a just transition.”

Prospect has proposed five key components in its just transition plan for the power sector:

  • A Net Zero plan for the power sector
  • A Just Transition Council
  • A new employment and training portal to support transition
  • A training and relocation fund for workers
  • A support fund for local communities

The discussion paper can be downloaded here.

Just Transition for energy workers

Just Transition is about the fair treatment of workers and communities most affected by change as we move to a lower carbon world.
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From generation to transmission, Prospect represents the interests of over 22,000 members working across all parts of the energy sector.