Civil service union Prospect has warned that ministers are failing to capitalise on the growth of the renewables sector because there is no government strategy to boost jobs.
The union, which represents professionals in organisations like the UK Hydrographic Office and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency as well as in the energy sector, said there had been a net loss of jobs in the low-carbon and renewable energy industry between 2014 and 2019.
Office for National Statistics data shows an estimated reduction of 33,800 direct jobs and a further 41,400 indirect jobs over the period – with a total of 412,000 jobs in the sector at the end of the period, down from 487,200 at the start.
While areas of growth over the five years include offshore wind power, energy-efficient lighting and hydropower, areas of decline include onshore wind, solar photovoltaic and energy-efficient products other than lighting.
Non-lighting energy-efficient products were the biggest area of decline over the period, with a reduction in 37,900 direct jobs and 47,000 indirect jobs.
Prospect senior deputy general secretary Sue Fearns said the nation was at risk of “missing the boat” in terms of ramping up the number of UK jobs supported by the renewable energy sector.
“The renewables sector continues to be plagued by policy uncertainty, off-shoring, and a drive for low costs, all of which mean we risk missing out on the huge strategic opportunity to convert clean energy into green jobs,” she said.
“Other countries like Denmark are getting this right, generating five jobs for every MW of renewable energy compared to just one job in the UK.
“With far more clean energy infrastructure needed in the coming years to achieve net zero, it is urgent that government grip this problem and put in place a strategy for developing UK renewables jobs, otherwise we will miss the huge economic opportunity presented by this green industrial revolution.”
Fearns made her observations on the day prime minister Boris Johnson sparked outrage in former coal mining communities when he joked that predecessor Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s pit closure drive had given the UK a head start in moving away from fossil fuels.
Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer called on the prime minister to apologise for his comments, which he said were “a slap in the face for communities still suffering from the devastating effects of Margaret Thatcher’s callous actions”.
Labour wants £30bn in planned investment to be brought forward to support up to 400,000 jobs in manufacturing and low-carbon industries.
It has also put forward plans to buy, make and sell more in Britain to create more jobs in the UK green supply chain, such as wind turbine manufacturing.
The ONS figures pointed to a net increase of 600 wind-related jobs between 2014 and 2019 because the increase in people working in offshore wind more than offset the decline in onshore-wind jobs.
A BEIS spokesperson said: “As we build back better and greener from the pandemic, this government is firmly committed to seizing the economic opportunities presented by the transition to a green economy.
“The data from 2019 and 2014 cannot be directly compared as there was a change in how the survey was conducted. In fact, ONS has concluded that the low carbon and renewable energy economy has remained stable.
“We have welcomed the recommendations put forward by the Green Jobs Taskforce. This will now be considered by the government, starting with the development of the our Net Zero Strategy, due to be published ahead of the UN’s climate summit COP26 in Glasgow this November.”