New wind farm doesn't bode well for 'green jobs'

Britain now has the world's biggest wind farm - but only 20% of the investment has apparently gone to UK firms.

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
The Government is very keen on the idea that in the brave new world of our post-recessionary economy, green technology is going to be one of the UK’s great competitive strengths. So it’s a bit of a downer to discover that although the world’s biggest wind farm has just opened today off the coast of Kent, only a fifth of the £900m invested in the project will apparently end up in the coffers of UK firms. That’s actually an improvement, by recent standards, but it’s not exactly impressive. If we can’t even build our own wind farms, it’s a bit hard to see green jobs powering the recovery….
 
A spokesman for Vattenfall, the company behind this massive new Thanet wind farm, told the Guardian that they’ve tried to use UK suppliers ‘where we can’ – but that less than 20% of its expenditure ended up going to local and other British firms. To add insult to injury, the biggest contract actually went to Denmark-based turbine maker Vestas, which closed down its only remaining UK production facility on the Isle of Wight last year (sparking a sit-in protest by some of the 625 staff who lost their jobs as a result). Since turbines are by far the most expensive bit of wind farms, a big chunk of any revenues from future projects is also likely to drain out of the UK.
 
But this leaves the Government with a problem. One of the main reasons why Vestas upped sticks – and why other manufacturers like GE are reluctant to set up facilities in the UK – is that the future of Britain’s off-shore wind industry remains uncertain. On Tuesday, Environment Secretary Chris Huhne talked about a ‘third industrial revolution’ of green technology. And we certainly have plenty of wind. But at a time of budget cutbacks across the board, is the Government really likely to sign off on lots of big expensive new projects like this?
 
On a related note, there was also a warning today from one of the UK’s other manufacturing ‘specialities’: the car-making industry. Vehicle and engine production has been a big growth area this year (albeit from a low base), showing that international carmakers still see Britain as an important manufacturing base. But the SMMT trade body is worried that may change if the Government goes ahead with this controversial (among businesses, if not right-wing tabloid readers) immigration cap. Their theory is that the likes of Nissan and Toyota won’t be able to bring in their own execs from overseas, which it says ensures Britain remains at the cutting edge.
 
This Government malarkey’s hard work, isn’t it? You solve one problem, and it creates another…

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