How green jobs can drive North’s skills revival – Polly Billington

HOW many young people do you know who have left Yorkshire to find work?

How can Yorkshire and the North make the most of green energy? Polly Billington poses the question.
How can Yorkshire and the North make the most of green energy? Polly Billington poses the question.

Perhaps your children now live in London, or maybe you know of someone who went to find their fortune in one of the big cities and returned, having found that the road isn’t (yet) paved with gold.

For generations, we’ve seen the young, bright and hopeful pack their bags and make the pilgrimage to cities like London in the hope of finding well-paid, sustainable employment.

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The result? A rather grim capital in which average salaries barely help you buy a garage plot – let alone a flat – and Yorkshire cities that have lost talent and missed out on proper investment or infrastructure.

Polly Billington is founder and chief executive of UK100, a green project dedicated to offering and promoting practical solutions to the climate crisis.

When the Tories broke through the ‘red wall’ in the last election, there was a lot of talk that this really would be the start of “levelling up the North”. By way of proof, the Government has set about creating a level playing field by announcing that some Treasury civil servants are moving to Darlington.

While few would disagree that it is high time Whitehall gets broken up and departments shifted around the country, it is nothing more than a gimmick without a long-term employment package for local people.

Earlier this week, news broke that the under-35s accounted for 80 per cent of UK unemployment in the wake of the pandemic.

But three quarters of the population believes that there is a sustainable solution to this employment crisis: more green jobs.

The Siemens offshore wind turbine plant in Hull has become a catalyst for green energy in the region.

According to new polling, 75 per cent of people think that more green jobs are key to the Covid recovery – a number that rises to 77 per cent in Yorkshire and Humber.

Communities around the country face the same problem: years of rapid loss of traditional jobs without investment from Government to replace them and the subsequent brain-drain of talent to London and elsewhere.

Despite the region having one of the highest rates of life satisfaction in the country, over half of the population believes that a local green employment revolution would stop young people from having to leave friends and family to find decent work opportunities. Yorkshire folk can see there’s an opportunity – and they want to be part of it.

For too long, Yorkshire’s talent, resources and opportunities have been overlooked: the region has experienced some of the worst effects of rapid industrial change such as the closure of the coal mines. Investing in more green jobs would prove that the powers-that-be are committed to rebalancing the economy.

Much is already going on with the growth of the offshore wind industry around the Humber, but there’s much more. In Leeds, for example, 46,439 workers already have the skills we need to reach net zero while just over 7,000 living in Harrogate could jump straight into green industries.

Huge numbers in Bradford and Hull also already have the skills needed to work in these areas – and could help to train the next generation of workers.

Imagine a future where our children can enjoy safe, well-paid jobs that they can grow and develop in – without the fear of industrial collapse that has plagued so many communities in Yorkshire.

So, what might these ‘green jobs’ look like? Leeds is already one of the UK’s leaders in climate action. The city has promised to be carbon neutral by 2030 and is looking into creating more green new jobs by way of its Climate Emergency Community Action Programme (CECAP).

A five-year programme, it plans to create 40 local jobs in communications, research and community co-ordination that will have a big focus on training and empowering young people. With a quarter of the city’s population being under 25-years-old, youth engagement and training opportunities are of vital importance.

More immediately, the City of York Council has created a Clean Air Zone within the city walls, which has seen over 90 buses being converted to electric or Euro 6 diesel. Thanks to this initiative, York will meet its air quality target for all pollutants later this year – a project that was only possible thanks to engineers, transport experts, city planners and mechanics having the skills required to build a solution to York’s needs.

Providing more investment for green jobs is the single most useful thing this Government could do to assure Yorkshire and other Northern regions that they’re no longer going to be left behind. It’s time to demand better opportunities for current and future generations.

Find out more about UK100 and the potential for more green jobs at UK100.org

Polly Billington is founder and chief executive of UK100, a green project dedicated to offering and promoting practical solutions to the climate crisis.

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