LEP chief calls on region to boost skill set

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YORKSHIRE must rise to the challenge of improving the skills base of its work force in order to cash in on the rapid growth in “green energy”, according to Lord Haskins, the chairman of the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership.

Lord Haskins also argued that British industrialists could learn a lot from their German counterparts’ commitment to training.

He was one of the keynote speaker at the Manufacturing a Green Economy conference, which was held yesterday to highlight the commercial opportunities linked to renewable energy.

The event at the Willerby Manor Hotel, near Hull, was organised by Team Humber Marine Alliance in collaboration with EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation.

Work could begin this summer on a flagship renewable energy plant in Hull that is set to transform the economic fortunes of the Humber.

Plans for the £210m Green Port Hull development, a joint project between Associated British Ports and Europe’s largest engineering company, Siemens, received backing from East Riding Council in February. The council is being consulted about the plans, which go before Hull Council’s planning committee this month.

Yesterday Lord Haskins, who is the former chairman of Northern Foods, said there were many reasons why the renewables sector was attractive to the Humber region. He highlighted the fact that the region was already heavily involved in the energy sector, and a large number of wind farm schemes are proposed in the North Sea.

He added: “Wind turbines need a huge amount of space. The Humber estuary is greatly under-utilised. This is just right for it.

“The intention is that the Humber doesn’t just become an assembly point. The biggest challenge is skills. Twenty young apprentices attended (the conference) today. They were gobsmacked by the potential for them.”

He said the UK had become obsessed with sending children to university. Instead of a “fruitless pursuit of academic skills” he said it would be better, in many cases, to get teenagers into vocational training.

“The lessons of training are ingrained in the German business mind,’’ he said. “The training (in Britain) has to be done by the businesses themselves.”

He said many of the people who had been trained by Northern Foods were now running the British food industry.

Angus Townley, market intelligence manager, energy and power at Tata Steel, said it was important to “galvanise” the supply chain.

He highlighted the fact that Tata Steel has invested £1.3m and created 19 jobs at its Scunthorpe steelworks as part of a strategy to tap into new market opportunities in the renewable energy sector.

The company has created a new wind tower hub to process and distribute up to 200,000 tonnes a year of steel plate, which will be manufactured at the Scunthorpe Plate Mill, as well as at the Dalzell Plate Mill in Motherwell.

In his speech, Mr Townley highlighted the fact that steel was an important component in the construction of onshore and off-shore wind turbines.

“Suppliers need to consider their position in the supply chain and look at innovation to increase output. By working together, we can increase the productivity and reduce the overall costs of production.”

David Sierwald, the business development manager at Huddersfield-based David Brown gears, said: “Offshore wind is the UK’s fastest growing domestic market. The UK needs a serious supply chain.”

Between 2013 and 2017, David Brown expects to source around £115m in the supply chain for its 7MW offshore wind turbine, Mr Sierwald said.

He added: “UK offshore wind technology will set the global technology standard.”

Andrew Johnson, the senior economist with EEF, said: “The potential for further euro-wobbles still presents one of the biggest risks to growth.

“Over the longer term, growth founded on higher investment and net exports offers a more sustained platform for growth. Manufacturing is at the heart of this.”