By Hamish Macdonell
Alex Salmond’s renewable energy revolution may only deliver a third of the
40,000 jobs he has predicted, the Auditor General has warned.
The First Minister has championed renewables, not only as the way forward
for Scotland’s energy needs, but also as a major employer for the future.
However, the Scottish Government’s claims that 40,000 jobs could be created
through renewables was questioned by Scotland’s Auditor General who warns
that the reality might be as few as 13,000 new jobs.
The Auditor General also says that progress is slower than the government
expected and that all the 293 wind farm projects which are currently under
construction or at the planning stage might not be enough to meet the
Scottish Government’s energy targets.
Mr Salmond’s administration has adopted one of the most extreme renewables
policies in the world.The First Minister wants Scotland to produce the
equivalent of 100 per cent of its electricity from renewables by 2020.
His government has also claimed this renewables revolution would create up
to 40,000 jobs and generate £30 billion of investment in Scotland.
Indeed, the SNP manifesto in 2011 went even further, promising to create
130,000 renewable jobs in Scotland by 2020.
But all these job claims have now come under scrutiny by Audit Scotland,
the body set up under the Auditor General to analyse and examine how public
money is spent.
According to the body’s latest report, the figure of “up to 40,000 jobs” is
the highest of a series of estimates made by Skills Development Scotland
two years ago and that, actually, the number of jobs created by renewables
might be as low as 13,000.
In a thinly veiled rebuke to the Scottish Government, Audit Scotland says
ministers have to “develop more realistic employment projections”.
The report also warns that the amount of public money being ploughed into
renewable energy in Scotland is about to rise significantly.They found that
although £209 million had been spent in the last ten years, this was going
to be dwarfed by the amounts due to be spent in the next two years.
The report states: “Funding will rise sharply over the next two years, with
a total budget of £264 million available.”
The Auditor General also points out that the progress of developing
renewable energy projects is much slower than the Scottish Government
anticipated, mostly because of changes at a UK Government level and delays
in the private sector.
However, as a result, the delays are backing up the line all the way to the
public bodies which have money to spend but nothing to spend it on.
Caroline Gardner, the Auditor General for Scotland, said that although the
Scottish Government was showing clear leadership on renewables, it needed
to do more to make sure its targets were achieved.
She said: “While there are aspects the Scottish Government and other public
bodies should improve, the main challenge is that private sector investment
has been slower than expected, reflecting the state of the economy and the
uncertainty of developments in the wider UK energy sector.”
The Tories were more dismissive of the Scottish Government’s approach to
renewable jobs. Scottish Conservative energy spokesman Murdo Fraser said:
“The SNP has form for misleading the public on renewables jobs after
claiming 18,000 worked in the sector, when in-fact it’s only 11,000.
“It seems the First Minister fibs about the present, and now his government
are trying to dupe the public about the future too.”
Fergus Ewing, the Scottish energy minister, insisted that Scotland needed
both onshore and offshore wind energy to “decarbonise” its electricity system.
But he added: “We recognise, as the report does, that renewable energy
projects are progressing more slowly than anticipated owing to factors such
as the current economic climate and changes in UK energy policy.
“With the uncertainty surrounding UK energy policy we are responding to
these market conditions by re-profiling our renewables budget, including
our flagship Renewable Energy Investment Fund, so that the sector can be
confident of continuing support into the future.”