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Thursday, 16 April 2009

Green Labour? Review of Event

INTRODUCTION

The CSPP (“the Centre”) held a discussion on Energy and the Environment at this year’s Scottish Labour Party Conference, with the kind support and sponsorship of RSPB Scotland and Eaga. The focus of the discussion was “green jobs”: what they are, why they are important, and how their creation can be promoted through policy.

The discussion incorporated voices from politics, business and the non-profit sector: all important players in the green jobs agenda. It was thorough and thoughtful, and the details of it are described in this report.

The Centre views the discussion as just the first chapter in an important conversation about green jobs. Newspapers, periodicals and bookshelves are these days replete with references to “green agendas” and the “green economy”. But there is a paucity of discussion about what exactly these terms mean, how they can be realised, and how realising them will change the nature of Scotland’s economy and environment. The Centre will continue contributing to this important conversation at forthcoming political conferences.

Details of our event at the SNP Spring Conference can be accessed here.

OVERVIEW

What follows is an overview of the event. It covers the main points made by the individual speakers and the content of the ‘Question & Answer’ Session.

SPEAKERS

Chair of the discussion, Sarah Boyack MSP (Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment), framed the discussion in the form of a question: What do we need to do to implement a green jobs agenda?

She urged that “now” is the “ideal time” to ask this question. She also stressed the importance of making sure that in answering it we be careful to make only the right investments.


Graham Downie (of NESTA) focused on the need for innovation. His central argument linked the green agenda and the recession: a key component of an innovative economic strategy will be the green sector.

He discussed the Finnish experience of “growth based industrial strategy”. In the early 1990’s the Finnish economy endured a deep recession. An important component of their response was the creation of a “technological ten year plan”. Graham recommended that the UK follow the same approach.

He also stressed the importance of getting more “bang for your buck”. He identified three important variables in attaining that goal: (1) The regulatory system (the correct balance between competition, rewarding innovation and entrepreneurship is vital if we are to encourage and nurture an “innovative culture”); (2) Access to capital for new sectors (risk capital is needed to invest in green sector’ which is why NESTA promotes a Government-funded £1bn venture capital fund; and (3) “Intelligent government/public service provision” (NESTA’s preferred approach is to “start with something small” and then “scale it up”.

Graham concluded by recommending that a “policy framework for the future” be developed. It should pay attention to the three ideas identified.

Anne McColl (of RSPB) focused her contribution on Scotland’s obligation to—and self-interest—investing in its natural assets. “Investment” means supporting (financially and rhetorically) a great many different projects: wetlands restoration, damn repair, changes in approaches to farming; and many others (for more details, see here).

She discussed past regeneration strategies—both successful and unsuccessful—and shared her insight (based on these experiences) that “decision makers will go for win-win situations”.

Her view is that currently there are plenty of policy ideas, but a shortage of delivery. Two things are therefore required: funding and political leadership. Anne pointed out that there are lots of policies being successfully implemented elsewhere (from Norway to Spain to Wales) but not in Scotland.

Anne also related her discussion to the problem to poverty. She ended with a direct message to Sarah Boyack MSP and the Scottish Labour Party: “When you write up your manifesto we don’t need new legislation. We need buy in to support Scotland’s poorest communities”.

Ross Armstrong (of Eaga) was optimistic about the scope for new jobs that our environmental problems present. He imagines that we could be about to witness a “social, economic and technical revolution” which could be a source of “exponential growth”.

In his view, a core element of this revolution is domestic insulation and renewable sources of energy (“renewables”). As regards conventional insulation, he believes that the “potential for increased skilling and jobs” is still very significant. He acknowledged that so far “a lot has been done but” but stressed that there is “plenty more” (i.e. more jobs and investment) to do. With regards to renewables, he believes it is now “time to deliver”. Again he pointed to the importance of retraining and re-skilling.

He emphasised that these are not merely questions about the “physical improvement of home”. The “behavioural” component is also essential. He believes that investing in re-skilling and restraining will begin to effect the “cultural change” that is much needed if we are to make serious progress in protecting our environment.

Ross ended by noting the dual nature of our environmental problems: they present both a massive challenge and a massive opportunity for growth.

SB concluded the opening remarks, praising them as “relevant, crisp and succinct”.

She also assured the audience that there is “no question mark after the term “Green Labour”, and offered the party’s manifesto for the last Holyrood elections as proof (This was in response to the title of the event: “Green Labour? Innovating to Compete”)

QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION

Is there a simple solution that we (the CSPP) can get into the Scottish budget next year? Also, why did the Green party’s proposal fail in the budget negotiations and can there be a Scottish consensus established?

SB: Energy efficiency is ‘high on the agenda in Labour and across the party’. Everyone signed up to my bill on this and on microgeneration. This is part of Labour’s fifteen point plan to combat the recession. The “political will is there” and it “will happen”. All that we need now is to “roll it out”. The Scottish Government presently has in place “too incremental a programme”.

There are great ideas out there. Why are they not happening? What are, in your experience, the “barriers to sustainable development”? And what can be done to remove these barriers?

GD: The Finnish comparison is of interest. Can Scotland consider it in the current environment? And what can be done to emulate this approach? They managed the risk very well and picked what industry they thought would grow. Risk management is very important in this strategy. The culture in relation to public services is quite risk averse in Scotland and is undoubtedly a barrier to sustainable development (e.g. Scotland missed the boat in making the most of wind energy). Yet the potential is still there and must be fully exploited.

AM: Technical problems and money are the perennial problems: “There are a lot of well able and high profile pots of money to access but can’t get to it”. A good example of this is the Climate Challenge Fund. The RSPB finds it very difficult to access these forms of income. Another barrier is the “knowledge base” of the decision-makers. There are “great ideas in policy” but no follow through in the case of many local authorities. This is partly due to the heavy workload they have.

RA: One of the biggest barriers to sustainable development is the lack of “political boldness”. But sustainable development is a “long-term game” and in 10-15 years the impact will be evident.

From the Centre’s perspective, the government needs to get the following right: (1) the need for local diversity and true decentralisation and (2) programmes need to be implemented at the service user’s point of view.

RA: There is “some political momentum for true localism: so called double devolution”. We need to give it a change to succeed. And on the end-user point, the important thing is working with industry. The Government must listen to these views and implement them.

GD: The best way to do things is “from the bottom”, where there is a lack of political attention. We need to “keep politicians out of the picture” for as long as possible. Also there is a lack of transparency in Government spending.

AM: To truly encourage green growth we need to avoid a “one size fits all” policy. Yet “confidence doesn’t exist to foster the unknown; the innovative solutions. This is new but not nasty. This is the biggest challenge”.

There is no point in “re-inventing the wheel”. We have not learned from the best practise out there. “Until we’re past that point we won’t get anywhere”.

SB: ‘Knowledge is key’.


CONCLUDING REMARKS

SB concluded by asking “How do you make this kind of event a big meeting at a conference and get it into the mainstream”? The CSPP must keep this issue on the agenda and should keep it going in a steering group.

Ross Martin (of CSPP) responded by stating that the CSPP has an energy and environment programme which is led by a steering group. The CSPP will be in touch and will ensure that this very important issue is kept on the agenda.

Paul Hughes, CSPP Research Associate

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