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Thousands of ‘red wall’ jobs at risk without green investment, TUC warns PM

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Up to 660,000 jobs – many in the UK’s industrial heartlands – are at risk unless Boris Johnson speeds up green investment and moving to “net zero” carbon dioxide emissions, according to a major study.

Many of the areas where jobs are most under threat include the “red wall” constituencies won by the Conservatives from Labour at the last election, and the unemployment threat will worry Tory MPs from these areas.

The warning comes in analysis by the TUC as it begins a three-day conference and just weeks before the Prime Minister welcomes world leaders including President Biden to the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow.

Besides climate change, being debated on day one, the TUC’s part-virtual conference at its London HQ will be dominated by protecting jobs post-COVID, opposition to last week’s national insurance hike and the planned £20 universal credit cut next month.

Spelling out the jobs warning, general secretary Frances O’Grady, who speaks in person on day two of the conference, declared: “The world is moving very clearly in one direction – away from carbon and toward net zero. The UK must keep up with the pace of change.

“There’s still time to protect vital jobs in manufacturing and its supply chains. But the clock is ticking.

“Unless the government urgently scales up investment in green tech and industry, we risk losing hundreds of thousands of decent jobs to competitor nations.

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“If we move quickly, we can still safeguard Britain’s industrial heartlands. The government should boost investment to at least the G7 average and commit to the Green Jobs Taskforce plans in full.

“Then today’s workers will know that their jobs are safe, and the future can be bright with decent jobs for their children too.”

Sir Keir Starmer will address the conference in person on Tuesday
Image: Sir Keir Starmer will address the conference in person on Tuesday

The Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer will address the conference in person on Tuesday, in what is likely to be a dress rehearsal for his Labour conference speech in Brighton two weeks later, which critics claim will be make-or-break for his leadership.

The conference will also see the public debut of new Unite general secretary Sharon Graham, elected last month, who is also due to speak on Tuesday, in support of a TUC motion demanding an end to “fire and rehire” by employers.

The TUC’s job losses analysis is based on data from the Office of National Statistics and researchers Catapult Energy Systems, a company funded by the government through Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency.

The unions want the government to implement recommendations in a report in July by its Green Jobs Taskforce, chaired by Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, and launch an £85bn green recovery package to create 1.24 million green jobs.

The TUC claims that unless the government acts now nearly 260,000 manufacturing jobs and more than 400,000 in supply chains could be moved offshore to countries that offer superior green infrastructure and greater support for decarbonising industry.

According to a TUC report in June, the UK Treasury is investing £180 per person on green recovery and jobs over the next decade, compared to President Biden planning £2,960 per person on green recovery, jobs and programmes like public transport, electric vehicles and energy efficiency.

Men queue outside of a Job Centre
Image: Hundreds of thousands of people face unemployment, the TUC has warned

The industries facing the biggest job losses, according to the TUC analysis, are:

• Rubber and plastics: nearly 80,000 jobs;
• Chemicals: 63,000;
• Glass and ceramics: more than 40,000;
• Iron and steel: nearly 27,000;
• Textiles: 18,000;
• Paper, pulp and printing: 15,500.

Supply chain jobs threatened include those in construction, producing and maintaining industrial machinery, transport, and trade, bringing the total number of jobs at risk to 660,000, according to the TUC.

The TUC also claims workers in the UK’s industrial heartlands are particularly at risk, with nearly 40,000 under threat in North West England, nearly 37,000 in Yorkshire and the Humber and more than 30,000 in the West Midlands.

According to the TUC, jobs in the steel industry are at a high risk because manufacturing is currently dependent on burning coal for high temperatures required to produce high-grade steel.

Alan Coombs, who has worked at Port Talbot steelworks for 40 years, said: “Companies overseas are already setting target dates for green steel. But the UK isn’t even putting our toe in the water.

“We have families here who are third or fourth generation working at the plant. If we don’t have apprenticeships in green steel technology soon, there won’t be another generation.

“If we put ourselves at forefront of green innovation, we can protect the workforce. But it needs government action.”