Why ownership is crucial to Scotland’s energy future

Last week Scotland’s national academy of science and letters, the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), published a report on Scotland’s energy future. The report is the outcome of a two-year Commission Inquiry and involved taking evidence from a number of stakeholders, including a roundtable discussion which the STUC attended. The Inquiry was financially supported by BP, Centrica, EDF and SSE, although the RSE says these energy companies had no input into the content of the report.

The report is frank about the scale of transformation and investment needed to meet the ‘energy quadrilemma’ of tackling climate change, ensuring affordability, safeguarding security of supply and developing policy that is socially acceptable and economically sustainable.

It uses a traffic light rating system to assess how technologies such as carbon capture and storage, offshore wind and nuclear perform against the four aspects of the energy quadrilemma, highlighting the trade-offs and hard choices that need to be made – and made soon.

There is much therefore in the report to welcome.

Yet the report is silent on some key issues.

While it acknowledges that ‘low-carbon transition requires massive, long-term investment and presents significant challenges to the market model’, it is silent on questions of ownership. Indeed, in response to questions about ownership during the launch event, the Commission Chair, Muir Russell, simply said ‘we are not in that space.’

Ownership isn’t simply an ideological concern. It is an issue of economic efficiency and value for money for the taxpayer.

The energy sector is a capital-intensive business and the cost of capital – through dividends and interest payments – represent a significant part of the cost of energy. Yet the cost of capital is far lower for government who can borrow at much cheaper rates than the private sector.

Take the new nuclear plant Hinkley Point C, funded through the UK Government’s Contract for Difference (CfD) scheme, which is costing more than £20 billion. It is estimated that it would have cost £10 billion if the government had been borrowing at 2%, rather than EDF’s cost of capital, which was 9%.

The CfD mechanism ties the Government into subsidising the private sector based on the current cost of technology rather than future costs. For example, EDF’s Neart Na Gaoithe (NNG) windfarm soon to be built ten miles off the coast of Fife using turbine jackets from Indonesia, is being funded at £114 per megawatt hour (an even higher price than Hinkley Point C). Yet the cost of offshore wind turbines have come down hugely since the 15 year contract was awarded in 2015 and EDF are about to coin it in, while refusing community and trade union demands to bring manufacturing jobs to the local area.

If we are to ramp up investment in energy infrastructure, as the RSE report demands, then it will be far cheaper for the infrastructure to be developed by the public sector rather than the private sector.

Questions of ownership within our energy system are not simply questions of ethics but questions of economic efficiency and value for money. Although a number of companies and shareholders currently benefit from the system as it is, if we are to meet the energy quadrilemma, we cannot afford to neglect the question of who owns our energy.

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Fife comes together to stand Ready For Renewal

Last Thursday, over 130 community members, environmentalists, trade unionists and politicians packed out Buckhaven Community Education Centre all with a common aim: to get answers from EDF.

However, despite their own policies to consult with local communities, EDF failed to turn up.

Dave Moxham, Deputy General Secretary of the STUC and chair of the evening’s meeting began by highlighting the empty chair next to him on the panel.  He explained that since EDF has chosen not to come to the community, the community must now pay them a visit at their Edinburgh offices and called everyone to attend a rally scheduled for the 5th of July.

Michael Sullivan, Secretary of the GMB Leven Engineering Branch, then spoke of the history of the yards.  Michael himself first began working in the yards in the early 70s, and has fought many battles in attempts to ensure that work there continues.  He explained his anger at EDF for stating that the yards don’t have the capability for the project, “That statement should be trashed. We do have the capability. We have the workforce with the experience to build to a high safety level. We cannot let them say otherwise.”

Our next speaker, Audrey Egan, spoke on behalf of Methil Community Council. She spoke of the positive impact on the community that EDF could have by awarding this contract to the yards, and highlighted the need for the campaign to continue.

Next we heard from Kate Whitaker from Friends of the Earth Scotland.  Kate expressed Friends of the Earth Scotland’s solidarity with the campaign and highlighted that while we often speak of the “looming” climate crisis, climate change is already impacting on many countries in the Global South, with people in India currently experiencing a deadly heatwave.  Kate spoke of the environmental impact of shipping turbine jackets abroad, stating, “Climate action doesn’t look like offshoring manufacturing work to other countries so we don’t have to count them in our emissions.” This highlighted the urgency of needing to have the wind turbine jackets built locally, deliver a just transition of workers into quality green jobs and start tackling climate change now.

Lastly, we heard from Jimmy Robertson, a Unite member who previously worked in the yards.  Jimmy spoke highly of his experience working in the yards, “We had pride in the work – mines, fishing, oil, gas.  This all created a community identity.  That’s what we’re losing. Some guys from the yards have never found work since, or we have compromised – working away from home, further to travel, impacting on our families.”  Jimmy spoke about workers having to compromise, and take on work in places like Amazon resulting in trained workers who can build ships, bridges and oil rigs moving parcels, “What a waste. What a waste of training and resources.”

The floor then opened for questions and comments, with many community members looking to have their say.  The discussion that followed touched on many key issues facing the yards and the wider community.  One audience member stated, “I was born here, I’ve witnessed my friends unable to work now because opportunities are being denied to them.  Some are having to get help from foodbanks and some are having mental health problems due to the lack of work.  We are being denied the opportunity for our sons and daughters to become engineers.”

The calls from the audience ranged from stressing the need for more investment into the yards to calls for the creation of a national energy company here in Scotland.

Michael Sullivan ended the evening with this statement, “I’m battle weary. I have been disillusioned. But the amount of people who have shown support tonight has lifted my spirits. We have to win this. We will need the support from everyone in here, and we can win this”

The STUC would like to thank everyone who attended the meeting and the staff at Buckhaven Community Education Centre.  Further details on the rally at EDF’s offices will be announced soon.

Environmental campaigners voice support for Fife – Ready for Renewal

Ready For Renewal, launched this last month in Fife, is a joint campaign led by the STUC, GMB and Unite the Union.  As part of the campaign, we’re calling on EDF to meet with the community this Thursday, to listen to their concerns and do the right thing by building their new turbine jackets in the Fife yards.  The meeting this Thursday (20th June) will take place from 6pm-8pm at Buckhaven Community Education Centre and we encourage all to attend.

Building these turbine jackets in the Fife yards, 10 miles away from where the wind turbines are to stand would bring hundreds of renewable energy jobs to the area, avoid the environmental damage of shipping the work abroad while improving the local economy.

Two key environmental campaigners from the New Economic Foundation and the Just Transition Centre have voiced their support for the campaign:

David Powell, Head of Environment & Green Transition, NEF

“The UK’s proud history of manufacturing should be at the heart of a Green New Deal – making the kit that will power a new generation of clean, labour-rich infrastructure.  Governments must attach firm conditions to companies that benefit from energy subsidies to make sure they invest in the people and places that most need green jobs. Multinationals like EDF need to play ball too. Rather than shipping turbine jackets half way round the world, they should be using the Fife yards to build this important infrastructure.”

Samantha Smith, Director, Just Transition Centre

“A real Just Transition for Scotland means creating decent jobs for Scottish workers and communities, not offshoring jobs and raising emissions. EDF needs to keep the promises it made when it got support from the government and unions.”

To find out more about the community meeting this Thursday, please click here.

Fife is Ready for Renewal

Ready For Renewal, launched this last month in Fife, is a joint campaign led by the STUC, GMB and Unite the Union.  We’re calling on EDF to do the right thing and build their new turbine jackets in the Fife yards.

Building these turbine jackets in the Fife yards, 10 miles away from where the wind turbines are to stand would bring hundreds if renewable energy jobs to the area, avoid the environmental damage of shipping the work abroad while improving the local economy.

Over the coming days we will be looking at what key environmental activists are saying about the campaign asks, and how it relates to creating a greener economy.

Mary Church, Head of Campaigns, Friends of the Earth Scotland has expressed her support, stating:

“We urgently need to build the clean energy economy in Scotland to do our fair share of tackling the climate emergency. But the new clean economy must be created in a way that ensures the benefits and costs are shared fairly, both internationally and here in Scotland.

“Building turbine jackets in Indonesia for our renewable energy infrastructure means offshoring the climate-change emissions associated with manufacture, and creating significant extra emissions by shipping the turbines half way around the world.

“Crucially, it also means losing the opportunity to create decent manufacturing work in Fife, that could help kick start the badly need Just Transition for workers and communities currently dependent on high carbon industries here in Scotland. EDF should think again about the real costs of sub-contracting this work far away from the shores on which the turbines will eventually stand.”

We have invited EDF to attend a community meeting on Thursday the 20th of June, from 6pm-8pm at Buckhaven Communiy Education.  All are welcome to attend, let’s show EDF the strength of the local community.  Our Facebook campaign page has more details of the event here.

#OurTurnScotland

On this International Workers Day, we’re thinking about international solidarity.  Across the world, thousands of  unaccompanied children are living in squalor in refugee camps and we have a moral duty to help them.  Today, we have a guest blog from John Dennis, Secretary of Dumfries TUC speaking about the campaign.

I’d never heard of either Safe Passage or the Kindertransport Association until I got an email out of the blue from Margaret Woods, the well-known campaigner for refugees in Glasgow.

Margaret knows my family background as she’s heard me talk about it at a Holocaust Memorial event at the STUC HQ 3 years ago and at anti-racism rallies in Scotland.

My father, then called Kurt Deutsch, was rescued, aged nearly 10, from Prague in July 1939 as one of a train load of Jewish children organised by Nicholas Winton. He got his place as his father Ernst had already died in February 1939 of mistreatment and typhus in Theresienstadt Concentration Camp.

His mother Melanie sent him to Britain with a big black metal trunk filled with full sets of clothes in various sizes to last him for 3 to 4 years.

She kept up an almost daily stream of letters to him (which I’ve translated from German for my family) till the start of WW2. She managed to send intermittent letters via contacts in neutral countries until she and her relatives were rounded up and sent to Theresienstadt and then on to Auschwitz in March 1942.

My father was sent by Nicholas Winton’s organisation to Selkirk where he spent the war years in the Priory. It was then a Church of Scotland orphanage accommodating up to 20 mainly Jewish child refugees of both sexes.

At the end of the war Kurt changed his name (to Kenneth John Dennis) after he had discovered that his mother and almost all his relatives had been murdered. From a wee shy 10 year old Czech boy with German as his second language and no English, he managed, thanks to the support of Selkirk High School and the community there, to win a bursary to study medicine at Edinburgh University.

He met my mother, the daughter of his landlady in Edinburgh and they had 4 kids. After gaining experience in various Scottish hospitals, he worked as an obstetrician in Aberdeen for 12 years before eventually becoming professor in Southampton where he worked till his death in 1989.

I knew nothing about my father’s early life until I was 14. I knew he’d been brought up in an orphanage in Selkirk. All I knew was that his parents had both died in the war and that the subject was too distressing for him to discuss. I’d assumed up to that point that they’d both died in air raids.

Anyway , to return to Margaret Woods’ email : It was forwarding a call by Barbara Winton (daughter of Nicholas) and Safe Passage for former Kindertransport children and their relatives to a rally in London to mark the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport and at the same time to promote efforts to rescue unaccompanied child refugees from dire situations in camps in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

I attended the rally on November 15th with my mother and was impressed by the work done by Lord Alf Dubs and the Safe Passage charity. I was particularly pleased that many at the rally , including some of the now aged Kindertransport evacuees, booed the speech of the UK immigration minister Caroline Nokes.

Unfortunately the rally did not get much media coverage as it took place the same day as a number of Tory ministers resigned over Brexit.

Those involved in the Safe Passage Initiative have approached a number of local councils to help find families and organisations who are willing to take unaccompanied child refugees. To date hundreds of places have been found, mostly in England. So far no local authority in Scotland has pledged any places.

I thought that I could take this forward through my involvement with the trade union movement in Scotland. I am Secretary of Dumfries Trades Union Council and I was Secretary of Dumfries & Galloway EIS (the teachers’ union) for 12 years up till my retirement in 2017.

I have had pledges of support from leading members of the SNP, Labour, the Lib-Dems and Green parties in South West Scotland and I was very glad that the General Council of the STUC agreed to my proposal to launch the campaign at STUC HQ in Glasgow on 1st May – International Labour Day.

I’m sure that people in Scotland will come forward in numbers to offer homes to child refugees once they receive the call from Scotland’s Councils.

In the 1930s many Basque children fleeing Franco’s Fascists were found places in Scotland as were many of the Kindertransport kids in 1938-39.

We are looking for 10,000 places across the UK over the next few years to match the 1939 totals. The UK government has been deliberately putting bureaucratic obstacles in the way of child refugees and only 20 children had been allowed in by September 2018. We need as many people as possible to come forward and offer places in their homes to increase the political pressure on the Home Office so that vulnerable children can be rescued from the squalor of the refugee camps.

The campaign is launching on social media on Wednesday 1st May at 11am, you can keep up with it by looking at the hashtag #OurTurnScotland.

Child Refugees (1)

Trade Union Solidarity with Palestine

Palestine (4)

Recent events in Palestine underline the need for international solidarity, Rachel Thomson, Campaigns & Communications Officer, writes in advance of the STUC’s conferences on trade union solidarity with Palestine.

This week, on Wednesday the 24th of April, the STUC will be hosting two events on Scottish Trade Union Solidarity with Palestine.

The morning event will include ‘voices from Palestine’ and a focus on solidarity activity. The afternoon event, taking place from 2pm will involve sessions on Boycott Divestment Sanctions and will conclude with a panel discussion featuring trade unionists from across the movement, including UNISON’s Sam Macartney, co-chair of the International Committee.

Our conference comes at a time of continued turmoil for Palestinians.  Just this week, a teenager was shot twice by Israeli soldiers, while handcuffed and blindfolded. The 16 year old, Osama Hajahjeh, said the incident began after a funeral for a school teacher in his village of Tuqu, who had been hit by a car driven by an Israeli while walking at a busy intersection.

This shooting comes after weeks of violence and repression following the commemoration of Palestinian Land Day. As the Israeli journalist Amira Hass states, “To listen to Palestinian news every morning is torture”.

However, international solidarity continues on, giving hope and strength to Palestinians at home and across the diaspora. Earlier this month saw marches of solidarity in Nigeria, with hundreds of activists taking to the street in Iwo (Osun State), organised by Nigerian Friends of Palestine.  In Johannesburg, South Africa, activists came together to plant olive trees to commemorate Palestinian Land Day.

Closer to home, hundreds marched in London to mark Palestinian Land Day, with placards reading “Exist! Resist! Return!” and “Freedom to Palestine”. Additionally, this summer will see resistance to Israel’s hosting of the Eurovision song contest. Not The Eurovision: Party For Palestine, organised by Palestine Solidarity Campaign, will take place in London on May 18 – the day of the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, Israel. The concert, featuring Mercury Prize-winners Wolf Alice and rapper Mic Righteous aims to highlight and protest human rights violations experienced by Palestinians. The organisers argue that Israel is deploying “artwashing” tactics by using Eurovision as a way to mask its regime of apartheid and occupation.

At the moment the STUC is working with European Trade Unions to call on the EU and European countries to impose a ban on economic activity with illegal Israeli settlements.  If your trade union would like to show solidarity and get involved, please email ETU at etu.palestine@gmail.com.

We hope our events tomorrow will provide attendees with the knowledge, skills and inspiration to continue the fight for Palestinian people.  To register for the event, please email info@stug.org and to see the agendas in full, please click here.

Predicting the predictable

Watch out for a story in the Herald on Sunday tomorrow (14th April).

 It will re-hash a story of some months ago about STUC finances using the ‘hook’ that STUC has its Congress in the week coming.  The journo may try to fold in some other bits and bobs to try and construct a ‘thing’.  But there will be no new news and no real story.  It will suggest that an organisation which is in robust health (just ask our auditors) somehow isn’t, and that a movement which regularly takes Government to task is somehow not independent of it.

 It will throw up two big financial sounding figures and imply that the STUC is economically reliant on Scottish Government funding.  Someone (odds are on it being one of the normal go-to MSPs of this singularly unimaginative journalist) probably a Tory, a Liberal or another ‘usual suspect’, will attack us for being too close to Government. The journalist ‘may’ be able to find someone who will say that the SNP is too close to the STUC. 

 I doubt he will manage to get a Labour Party comment.  They understand that reasonable a relationship between government and unions to deliver on agreed objectives is a good thing, even when it’s not them.   There may I guess be a few social media comments from Labour supporters on the back of the story saying that we are not independent enough of the SNP.

 The bigger financial figure the journalist will cite – some £2.5 million – funds the Scottish Union Learning project. The STUC and our affiliated unions deliver structured adult learning opportunities based in the workplace.  The idea is that skills and learning are good things for individuals, employers and the economy.  Unions are trusted to deliver some of these opportunities in partnership with the employer. This is not highly controversial. The Tories fund a similar strategy for the TUC to deliver in England. Union learning has been funded in Scotland by government since it was first introduced, by the Labour/Liberal coalition Scottish Executive.

The smaller figure, some £250,000 per year, is used to fund collaborative work to promote the Fair Work Framework.  This government initiative has widespread support across the Parliament.  It is used primarily to promote an alternative vision of work in sectors such as hospitality and care where working conditions can be poor and pay too low.

These funds are used in their entirety to support the projects’ objectives.  It would be a tragedy if they were to disappear, thousands of workers would be denied the opportunity of personal and professional development. However it would not affect the rest of the work the STUC and unions do.

If you’re interested in that, just take a look at the General Council’s report to our Congress next week to get a sense of the depth and breadth of what we do.

Among those other things that we do includes supporting our affiliates when they take industrial action.  The two biggest events of last year to which we dedicated resources were the Glasgow Equal Pay strike targeting an SNP-led council and the Teachers Dispute targeting the Scottish Government.  Oh and there was the lobby outside the Scottish Parliament on budget day and our critical analysis of Derek MacKay’s budget and its subsequent changes to increase funding for local government.

We got plenty of flack from SNP supporters about these things.  The main charge was that we are too close to Labour. 

It is to the credit of the Scottish Government that never on a single occasion directly or by implication has it been suggested that we should pull our punches on such issues. 

This is a good job, because we never would.  We owe it to our affiliates and their members to represent their interests and these will always come first.  That means being critical when criticism is due and not indulging in political posturing when it is not.

We have a robust democracy which underlines this approach.  We will be held to account next week at our Congress.  Tomorrow, on the eve of Congress, we will highlight the situation of migrant workers in Scotland and call on the Scottish Government and employers to do more. 

It is a central issue going to the heart of the impact of Brexit, Scotland’s demographic challenges and the battle against exploitative work. 

One thing I won’t try and predict is whether the journalist or his paper will cover this issue. 

But let me guess …

 

Dave Moxham