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Notwithstanding the disruption, heartache, and necessary political focus on crisis management caused by the pandemic, this Johnsonian Government has made levelling up a priority for its period in office, spearheaded by a desire to retain the recently gained post-industrial towns across the Midlands and the North. 

The £4.8 billion Levelling Up Fund announced by the Chancellor for local improvements such as road upgrades, museums, and town centre improvements, up to £20 million per area, is at its heart a conventional regeneration fund which misunderstands what is expected of levelling up by the people in those communities.

Those people, and those places – while they will of course welcome that pot of funding – are looking for substance. They need to know that in a changing world, with technology and artificial intelligence improving business efficiencies, but increasingly impacting traditional working roles, that there is a plan to enable them to continue to work and provide for their families, and which recognises their contribution within their community.

Those communities often exist either in the shadow of historic industries which once employed people in their thousands, or in previously secure industries which are now at risk of rapid decline as public policy dictates a dramatic shift. This is especially so in the energy sector, where public and political acceptance of the importance of climate change has resulted in a drive for clean, green, cheap energy, but also seeks the added bonus of tens of thousands of green jobs.

These jobs will not come without a clear plan to support and attract private investment at scale, including backing for a robust, timely expansion of the supply chain to boost manufacturing capacity, and a recognition that every step of the process – from research and development to exporting – needs a specifically tailored governmental focus.

The renewables sector has a great story to tell. In the midst of the energy transition, moving away from fossil fuels to clean energy sources, renewables have not only been steadily increasing the amount of electricity they produce in the UK, but are also expanding their workforce. The renewables sector has proven its resilience through the Covid-19 crisis, creating 2,000 much-needed new jobs. 

Those jobs are often found in the very areas which will be critical to the Conservatives’ electoral strategy: the east coast across the Humber, further north around the Tees and Tyne, and off the Cumbrian coast in the North West.

The most recent figures show that there will be 27,000 jobs in offshore wind alone by 2030, and those calculations were made when the target for generating capacity was set at 30 gigawatts (GW). Fast forward just a couple of years, and the offshore wind workforce is set to grow further and faster than that, as the Government has increased its target for the industry to install 40GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030. 

We have also seen a welcome boost to a wider range of renewable technologies: onshore wind which is now firmly back on the table, as well as solar, wave and tidal, and emerging tech like floating wind and renewable hydrogen.

Excitingly, this means an expansion in roles across this spectrum of technologies – from research stages through to completing installation – and then operating and maintaining projects over their 25-30 year lifespan. We need to make sure not only that we have people ready with the right skills, but also that we are delivering the necessary infrastructure, such as port development, to meet the needs of the expected additional manufacturing and resource capacity for all renewable sources. 

The Government’s commitment to achieving net zero emissions by 2050 means that a lot will change for all of us in the coming years: how we travel, the way we build and heat our homes, perhaps even the kinds of food we eat or what our countryside looks like. This places significant expectations on the British public’s ability to adapt to change. As we see the continuing expansion of offshore wind farms, with the individual turbines growing in size too, the way in which these projects connect to transmission infrastructure onshore will be streamlined to ensure minimal impacts on communities and landscapes, and we will continue to work closely with nature conservation organisations to safeguard wildlife, to ensure the technology itself is as sustainable as possible. 

In fact, we’re urging the Government to put more funding into its own advisory bodies like Natural England, so that they have sufficient resources to step up their important work as we quadruple our offshore wind capacity by the end of this decade.

If the Government wants to get the best bang for its buck, renewables have proven that they can deliver the energy we need, drive costs down for consumers, and keep innovating to push to the next frontier of clean, sustainable energy provision for our nation. Supporting the renewables sector to meet the increased electricity needs for the country as we move to EVs will help tick two big items on the Government’s ‘to do’ list – achieve net zero by 2050 and achieve significant jobs growth in areas which the Conservatives are determined to level up.

Melanie Onn is the Deputy Chief Executive of RenewableUK who served as Member of Parliament for Great Grimsby from 2015 to 2019. This article first appeared in our Centre Write magazine The Great Levelling?. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.