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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, October 28, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 28 October 2021

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Point of Order, Offshore Training Passport, Portfolio Question Time, National Health Service Endowment Funds, Covid Recovery Strategy, Points of Order, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


Contents


Offshore Training Passport

I remind members of the Covid-related measures that are in place and of the fact that face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and across the Holyrood campus.

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-00522, in the name of Mercedes Villalba, on the need for an offshore training passport. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the publication of a survey of offshore oil and gas workers regarding training requirements to work in the energy sector, which was carried out by Friends of the Earth Scotland, Platform and Greenpeace; notes that 97% of the workers surveyed described themselves as concerned about the costs of training; understands that many are currently expected to duplicate their training to work in different areas of the energy sector, including oil and offshore wind; believes that the cost and duplication of training is a major barrier to a just energy transition that retains the skills and experiences of offshore workers; considers that their skills and experiences are essential to deliver the equitable and rapid transition to renewable energy in the north east and across the country, which it believes is itself essential to tackling the climate emergency; notes calls on the Scottish Government to commit to supporting the creation of an offshore training passport, align training standards across the energy sector and explore whether the National Transition Training Fund or Green Jobs Workforce Academy can rectify training barriers, and further notes the calls on the Scottish Government to work with the UK Government to ensure the establishment of the offshore training passport.

12:49  

I thank all the members who supported the motion, which allowed it to be brought forward for debate at today’s members’ business.

I think that we all agree that our economy must shift from reliance on carbon-intensive sectors to greener alternatives and that failure to bring about such economic change will weaken our efforts to tackle the climate emergency. However, we cannot pursue that at the expense of workers such as those in the offshore oil and gas sector.

I represent offshore oil and gas workers in the north-east, so I know the importance of delivering a worker-led transition. That means a transition that will not only deliver well-paid and secure green jobs but empower workers. We are far from achieving such a transition in the offshore energy sector. In fact, offshore oil and gas workers are left in a position where their transferable skills go unrecognised. They are often asked, and at great personal expense, to duplicate skills and qualifications that they already have. Workers continue to find themselves in that position because of on-going market failure coupled with Government inaction.

Left to their own devices, the sector’s major training bodies have failed to agree common standards. They have instead developed rival standards, training modules and qualifications. Although the Scottish Government provides warm words about a skills guarantee and a just transition, there is no hint that it is willing to meaningfully intervene. That is why I have been engaging with climate campaigners from Friends of the Earth and with trade unions such as the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers.

Workers’ futures can no longer be left to the whims of the market or remain unsupported by Government. Workers need Government intervention. That is why I am calling on the Scottish Government to commit to creating an offshore training passport. When I raised the issue with the First Minister last month, she described an offshore training passport as a “constructive proposal”. However, when the Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work later wrote to me, he failed to offer any firm commitment that the Scottish Government would support the creation of an offshore training passport. I therefore have three key asks that I hope a minister will respond to when they come to close the debate. I cannot see a minister here.

For clarification, the minister is joining us remotely.

Thank you.

I referred earlier to the significant personal expense that offshore oil and gas workers face in covering training costs. Research by Friends of the Earth Scotland, Platform and Greenpeace UK suggests that an offshore oil and gas worker will pay up to £1,800 a year in training costs. Most of those workers receive no financial contribution from their employer towards training costs. As the sector offers largely insecure work, workers are often forced by new employers to duplicate training that they have previously completed.

The impact of those training costs on the lives of workers should not be underestimated. Take James, for example, who worked in the offshore oil and gas sector for almost 25 years but took the decision to transition to working primarily in offshore wind. James said:

“I bear all training costs myself, from my own pocket, and to become competitive with other divers, the more qualifications you have, the better chance you have of working”.

To increase his competitiveness and meet the standards required by offshore wind employers, he has spent £6,000 of his own money on training and certification costs in the past two years.

Like James, Jack has spent a significant period working in the offshore oil and gas sector. He has borne training costs of £3,000 in the past two years due to receiving no financial support from his employers. Jack said:

“The companies used to pay for your training costs. Once you were established with a company, they would pay for your training because they wanted you to work for them. Now it’s very different. You’ve got to cover all these costs yourself, and the training needs redoing every couple of years, so you’re in this constant cycle.”

Those workers have taken a financial hit in the name of transition, but achieving the scale of change that we need will take co-ordinated Government intervention. My first ask to the minister is this: will the Scottish Government commit, in principle, to supporting the creation of an offshore training passport?

Along with the burden of costs, I spoke earlier of the market failure in the offshore energy sector that is exemplified by the two industry training bodies. The Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organisation focuses on offshore oil and gas training while the Global Wind Organisation covers training for offshore wind. Despite a significant overlap in many of the training modules that they provide, particularly in relation to safety, they have been unable to agree common standards. That means that workers who are looking to make the transition are in the ludicrous position of regularly having to duplicate training and qualifications.

One worker, who wishes to remain anonymous, told me of the duplication of safety training that he would have to undertake if he wanted to transition from offshore oil and gas into offshore wind. He summed it up perfectly:

“Can anyone tell me what the difference is between the GWO and OPITO courses? All it leads to is confusion and very rich training providers”.

My second ask for the minister is whether he will call a summit for OPITO, the GWO and the trade unions to deliver an agreement on common training standards and to resolve other issues such as the lack of sectoral collective bargaining in the offshore wind supply chain.

The Scottish Government regularly talks of its commitment to a just transition for those working in carbon-intensive sectors, but its actions to date have failed to live up to that commitment. It has provided no detail on how its planned skills guarantee will work in practice, and its much-trumpeted green jobs workforce academy has also turned out to be little more than a referral website to job adverts and training courses. In fact, when I used that website yesterday to search for offshore jobs, at least half seemed to be for advisory roles and research posts at universities.

Given that the energy skills alliance has been tasked with creating an all-energy apprenticeship for new entrants into the sector, my final ask of the minister is whether he will look at tasking the ESA with creating an offshore training passport to benefit the existing workforce as well.

As delegates begin to arrive in Glasgow ahead of the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—we have an opportunity today to demonstrate Scotland’s commitment to climate justice, underpinned by social and economic justice. I hope that the Scottish Government will grasp that opportunity and deliver the worker-led transition that our offshore oil and gas workers deserve.

12:56  

I was very interested to hear the ideas that Mercedes Villalba has put forward and I found very little to disagree with in that speech. It is good to see that she is highlighting these issues; I have highlighted many similar issues in the five years since I have been elected. I congratulate her on getting the debate today.

There are many barriers to moving from oil and gas to renewables, and certification is certainly one of them. Over the summer, I conducted a survey on transitioning, and in the next few weeks I am publishing a report of my findings, with the testimony of nearly 600 oil and gas workers on their experience. I thought, as somebody who is very much steeped in the oil and gas community of the north-east, that the debate would be a good place to air some of the thoughts of those men and women on certification and training, which may assist Ms Villalba—although I appreciate that she is doing a lot of her own research—and the minister.

I have often talked of the reports that oil and gas workers have given me about the prejudice that they face when applying for jobs in other sectors. People often report an assumption that, once the oil and gas sector picks up, workers will move back into the industry from new jobs in renewables. In fact, one recruitment agency told me that it tested that theory of bias against oil and gas workers. It would show companies a CV in which details of where and in what capacity the applicant had worked were stripped out so that only their skills were shown. When presented like that, the applicants’ CVs were met with a very warm welcome and offers of interviews. However, when those CVs were shown with the applicants’ previous employment records from the oil and gas sector, they were disregarded and people did not get to the interview stage. Yet in my discussions with renewables sector, it says that it is crying out for applicants and would welcome oil and gas workers. Something is not working here.

An offshore installation manager with 25 years’ experience told me:

“It is made extremely difficult as you require a different set of expensive certification, and the comprehensive training and certification received in the oil and gas industry isn’t recognised. We need to enable skill sets to be recognised across both industries.”

A field service supervisor with 15 years’ experience said:

“Often other industries will not hire O&G workers as they think they will leave when Oil and Gas picks up again. O&G is seen to pay higher so people often presume you would not take a pay cut. Once I tried to change industry and got to the final two interviewees. I was not selected because they were worried I would not be happy with the pay cut.”

A technical safety engineer said:

“It’s too expensive to transition by yourself without employers paying for the training, but renewables companies expect the training to be achieved before you meet the job specs.”

A drilling technician of 16 years’ experience told me:

“I would like to retrain but I’m unsure what courses are best for me to do and I don’t want to pay out money if it doesn’t help me get work”.

A woman with 18 years in the industry as a human resources manager said that workers needed to be provided with details of roles available, and that the Government needed to work with the industry to compare competence requirements. She went on to say that the Government should support a joined-up approach and that it should encourage more use of initiatives such as Connected Competence, which help to record and support transferable skills. If that means a passport, as Mercedes Villalba has suggested, so be it, but the Government needs to start working with industry, and it needs to happen a lot faster than it is now.

I look forward to continuing this discussion, because the issue is so important for my constituency and the north-east. If a passport is the way forward, let us get industry and regulatory bodies together to develop it. However, as outlined by the workers who spoke to me, there are many more barriers to transitioning, and I look forward to detailing them in my report, which I will send to the minister, Ms Villalba and everyone else who contributed to the debate.

13:01  

At the outset, I congratulate Mercedes Villalba on securing her first members’ business debate and for doing so on such an important topic. According to Oil & Gas UK, the oil and gas industry supports around 60,000 workers in the north-east, and perhaps 100,000 more widely. The consequences of not managing the transition away from fossil fuels in a managed and fair way are, I agree, too awful to contemplate. We must ensure that the workforce can transition to those lower carbon jobs and do so easily and cost effectively.

Robert Gordon University reported earlier this year that 90 per cent of oil and gas jobs have medium to high transferability, so it is imperative that securing the training and certifications required is as efficient and straightforward as possible, with initiatives such as the passport that has been proposed. I am pleased that, to an extent, that is already being developed through the energy skills alliance and as part of the United Kingdom’s transformative £16 billion North Sea transition deal. OPITO is leading work on the development of a people and skills plan to look at how safety and technical standards can align with the energy skills passport—a core element of its work. Similar programmes are already under development in the offshore wind and nuclear industries, so that very much complements existing efforts.

Crucially, the energy industry is working with RGU to use its figures to model supply and demand to 2030. By doing so, a timeline for ramping up the likes of hydrogen production and use in the wind sector can be plotted in order that the industry can bottom out what the capital expenditure profile will look like. From there, the industry can isolate what skills are required, where and how. OPITO tells me that that work will be completed by March 2022, and it will fit into the work that is already being done by the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board. Indeed, when I met companies such as Shell and TotalEnergies recently, it became clear that significant investment is already going into transitioning products, productions and skills. Just this morning, I was corresponding with Tech-Terra, an Aberdeen company, which told me that it has just used oil and gas skills, infrastructure and ideas from the north-east of Scotland to carry out a geothermal mapping project in India.

In my view, the transition requires that industry itself can see a future and that the transition is managed and supported politically. That means investors and businesses not being confronted with mixed messages from the Scottish Government about the industry’s future; nor should there be a potentially damaging failure to recognise the Climate Change Committee’s conclusions on the long-term demand of the UK for domestically produced gas.

In the wider debate over the future of the UK oil and gas industry, it is extremely important that knee-jerk positions are not adopted and that genuine appraisal of issues such as the carbon footprint of imported liquefied natural gas, as against domestic production, underpin our thought processes. Furthermore, where support is offered, it must be properly thought through. Mercedes Villalba rightly flagged a couple of failures in that regard, but I would add to that, because the Scottish Government has trumpeted its announcement of a £500 million just transition fund and plan but remains unable to tell anyone who will get it, where, how they should apply or any detail whatsoever, and does not propose to do so until spring 2022. That contrasts with the UK Government, which immediately announced its key commitments when it revealed the £16 billion North Sea transition deal. It is really important that the Scottish Government ensures that, when it makes an announcement, it has substance and does not appear to simply be—what did the First Minister call it?—a face-saving slogan.

In summary, a fair, managed transition is not only an economic essential but a moral imperative. The member’s motion recognises that and proposes part of the solution. For that, it is to be commended.

13:05  

I congratulate my colleague Mercedes Villalba on securing this debate, which has been excellent so far. It has been a pleasure to see new members come to the Parliament, hit the ground running and get their motions for members’ business debates supported, and in Mercedes Villalba we see a real champion for the north-east, for workers and for the socialist green new deal that we badly need to tackle the climate and nature emergencies. This debate is also timely, with COP26 beginning in just three days’ time. We have heard good speeches from Gillian Martin about the work that she is doing, and from Liam Kerr, and I am sure that we will hear others from members who are about to speak.

Mercedes Villalba has been given credit by the First Minister for being constructive in her approach. I think that we hit a bit of a road bump with some of the responses from the Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work, Richard Lochhead, but I am pleased to see the Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity, Lorna Slater, on the screen today, because I know that she has a real insight and interest in the matter and I feel hopeful that she will respond to the solutions that have been proposed. Clearly, Mercedes Villalba has not come up with the proposals on her own. The report is the work of Friends of the Earth Scotland, Greenpeace, Platform and the RMT, and the proposals have come from workers themselves.

I was shocked to hear the account of the oil and gas worker James, who had to pay an eye-watering £6,000 to make the transition to offshore wind. What we are tackling is really an injustice—it is the opposite of a just transition. Given how big the agenda is, we need every member of this Parliament to do the heavy lifting, bringing the solutions to the chamber and giving a voice to workers. I hope that this will be quite an easy debate for the minister to respond to, because Mercedes Villalba has set out three clear asks, and some of the solutions are laid bare in the report, “Training & Tickets: The Hidden Costs For Offshore Oil & Gas Workers”. I am sure that it will not come as a surprise to the minister, but she is now in a position to do something, and many of us in the Parliament want to help.

I am grateful to the RMT for its helpful briefing and I echo its calls. There is an urgent need for an offshore training passport. We see in the findings that 94 per cent of offshore oil and gas workers are in favour of that. We have heard about some of the costs that workers have had to bear and, as I said, it is a real injustice. I said in our debate yesterday on COP26 that Scotland has the potential to lead Europe’s green energy revolution over the coming years and decades, but we need well-paid green jobs in order to be at the heart of that.

I am pleased that we have a chance today to talk a bit more about what a just transition actually means and what it needs to look like in practice. We have heard about a real fragmentation in training and a lot of profiteering that needs to be rooted out. I am also pleased that Mercedes Villalba talked about the green jobs workforce academy, because right now it does just look like a bit of a glorified website. When I asked Scottish Enterprise recently what a green job is, it said that it does not really have a definition of that, so we have some work to do.

As I said, this has been a good debate, because the asks are very clear. This is an urgent matter, and I hope that, in her response, the minister will be able to give a firm commitment to the member and to all of us who have a keen interest in making sure that we get a genuine, transformative, worker-led just transition, because we need that now.

13:09  

I thank Mercedes Villalba for bringing this important debate to the chamber. I, too, represent a constituency in which oil and gas is a significant contributor to our economy and an employer of many people, whether they are working at local installations, in the North Sea or further afield.

Seas are rising and the world is getting hotter, and if we want to reverse that, we have to reduce our energy needs by reducing demand for fossil fuels. Decisions to be made shortly, in Glasgow, and over the next 10 years will either make our planet or break it. We need a just transition to ensure that people are not left on the scrapheap as their jobs disappear. We saw that happen when the coal mines were closed; some communities never recovered, and some still struggle four decades on.

The Scottish Government estimates that there are roughly 100,000 jobs in which people are employed directly or indirectly by the oil and gas sector. The Scottish Liberal Democrats have been calling for a successor to the just transition commission. I have also called for a northern isles just transition commission, with a mission to avoid workers being piled on the scrapheap, a decline in communities because of a loss of jobs and a loss of expertise in the energy sector. The commission’s membership would consist of workers and communities, trade unions and environmental interest groups. That is how we make the switch to renewables and save workers and communities from a repeat of the past.

Offshore training passports can help to secure that. As the motion points out, one of the barriers to a truly just transition is the cost that workers must incur in order to gain qualifications in the renewables sector; Mercedes Villalba rightly highlights the eye-watering figures in that regard. People in the oil and gas sector may already have those qualifications, and a passport that recognises their training would cut costs for workers and allow for seamless intersectoral job prospects. Friends of the Earth found that 81 per cent of workers said that they would consider switching to the renewables sector—a redeployment of skills that we urgently need. As other members have mentioned, there is a shared commonality of skills.

Scotland was to be the “Saudi Arabia of renewables”. I hope that the Scottish Government does not miss another opportunity, and I hope that ministers will see the merits in offshore training passports.

13:11  

I thank Mercedes Villalba for bringing the debate to the chamber and giving us the opportunity to discuss the economic, social and environmental imperative that is the just transition—a managed process of economic change that is fair and equitable, and which means that no one is left behind.

Many of us in this place and beyond have been talking about a just transition and a green new deal, and have for years been campaigning for climate justice and for the structural changes that are needed to avert climate catastrophe. We have been frustrated by the slow pace of change and the reluctance to act. We really need to stop talking and start doing, because meeting our climate targets and achieving a sustainable world requires a fundamental transformation of our economy and society. The energy sector probably needs to make some of the biggest shifts.

We need to transition to renewables in order to build our economy on an energy system that does not cost the earth. Building a new economy that is green and fair, and which serves everyone rather than just the wealthy elite, must start with a new deal for workers. The just transition that we—along with Mercedes Villalba and others—want must be worker led, and workers must get the support that they need.

As other members have highlighted, we value hugely the skills and experience of our current offshore workforce, and we have to support them to develop the new skills and expertise that will be the cornerstone of a renewables-based economy. I support the motion’s call for the establishment of an offshore skills passport and for a coherent strategy to ensure that all workers can access the training and professional development that they need, without being out of pocket through doing so.

Many workers in our energy sector are living with a precarious and uncertain future, and many people in the north-east have already lost their jobs over the past couple of years. We cannot, and must not, leave oil and gas workers at the mercy of market forces. We must not leave them to face the end of oil and gas without support and without a plan, or leave them and their communities to face devastation that would be similar to that which was faced—as my colleague Beatrice Wishart outlined—by mining communities in the 1980s and 1990s.

I urge the Scottish Government to act quickly to support workers in the energy sector. I ask the minister, in her closing speech, to outline how we can use some of the £500 million just transition fund to provide the training and skills development that workers need.

I also urge the Scottish Government to stress in its on-going discussions with the United Kingdom Government the importance of offshore workers to Scotland’s future economy. However, I find it deeply frustrating that we have to ask, and to beg and plead with the UK Government to deliver the things that we need to secure a just transition. I take Mercedes Villalba’s motion in good faith, but it points to the weakness of letting British nationalism trump democracy. We need the powers that I and others have argued for, if we are to deliver for our workers.

We have our work cut out for us. With COP26 starting in just a few days, let us put offshore workers and other energy sector workers at the centre not only of our plans, but of our actions, to deliver the just transition that we all so desperately need.

13:15  

I, too, thank Mercedes Villalba for bringing the debate to Parliament.

I have worked in the energy sector for many years, so I recognise that the transition to renewables is vital in order to safeguard the future and to safeguard jobs. As a North East Scotland MSP, the livelihoods of thousands of energy sector workers and their families are at the front of my mind.

I, too, am interested in the workability of an offshore training passport, but I am cautious. We should not jump straight from A to Z: scoping must come first. Safety is of paramount importance. Any proposal that looks at competency and skills training needs also to consider the implications for health and safety, as well as at accreditation for the specific competencies and skill sets that must be identified for the new type of work.

The north-east can become the role model for the world in that transition. We all recognise that, as renewables become more embedded, we cannot afford to lose the talent and technical expertise of the people who work in the energy sector; they are essential to facilitating that shift. That is why there must be a properly managed transition that takes in the contributions of all the key stakeholders working together.

I know that the energy skills alliance, which was established last year by the energy sector skills and safety standards body OPITO, is looking at future energy skills demand and supply as part of its work framework. That includes understanding the training and support that are needed to deliver the energy transition. It is a cross-industry group that includes representatives from the Oil and Gas Authority, Oil & Gas UK, the Scottish Government, Scottish Renewables and the unions. That will produce an important body of work, so we must look at its recommendations carefully.

I am pleased to see that BP, which has ambitious plans for offshore wind in the north-east, has signed a five-year deal with an Aberdeen-based energy consultancy to provide a skills capability accelerator. Its remit is to create energy-level transition roles, and to facilitate the reskilling of oil and gas workers, graduates and technicians with skills that are transferable to the renewables sector.

The expectation should be that the education sector can rise to that challenge. Further education and higher education are key to that work. Nobody should work in a silo.

As part of the UK Government’s North Sea transition deal, OPITO is also leading the development of a people and skills plan that will address a number of the issues that have been raised today.

As we transition to an integrated energy sector, we must listen to the concerns of all stakeholders, and we must act collaboratively across Government, regulators, industry and the third sector to address those concerns. I strongly believe that collaboration is key, so I look forward to engaging with members on the issues over the coming months.

13:19  

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests.

I thank my comrade Mercedes Villalba for securing this as her first members’ business debate. She has done so as a committed environmentalist and as a principled democratic socialist, but also as a conscientious representative in Parliament for North East Scotland.

To Mercedes Villalba’s constituents and to many other working people, the establishment of an offshore training passport is a test; it is a test of whether we are really serious about a just transition, because there can be no better example of how we must make the shift from the carbon economy to the post-carbon economy in a just way than the active redeployment of offshore oil and gas workers to jobs in offshore renewables.

As we prepare to host the UN’s conference on climate change in Glasgow next week, as decisions are taken about the future, as agreements are reached, as targets are set and as treaties are signed, we need to expose the yawning gap between high-falutin’ statements of future political intent and the real present-day lived economic experience of the people whom we are sent here to represent.

Although Oil & Gas UK has expressed support for the Connected Competence initiative, only eight contracting companies have signed up and the offshore wind industry has given it no support. Although it is true, as has been said, that OPITO is overseeing a North Sea transition deal and has recently joined RenewableUK, when it did so, it put out a press release in which it set out its view that

“different parts of the energy sector have different skills requirements”.

What about all the common skills requirements? What about all the common health and safety requirements? Instead of seeing the glass as half empty, what about seeing it as half full?

The chief executive officer of RenewableUK told us, in the same press release, that when it comes to the offshore wind sector, the experience of the oil and gas workforce is, in his words,“most prized”. However, for those most prized of workers, there is no collective agreement with the trade unions. Those most-prized workers are mostly contracted out. Some are even on the national minimum wage—if they can get a job, at all.

That is why I tell members that it cannot be left to commercially driven private limited companies and the forces of the market to equip oil and gas workers with the training and certification that they need to work in renewables. They will not do it and it will not work.

That is why we need Government action. We do not need a Government that simply talks about planning “a programme of events”; as the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport told us in this morning’s newspapers, we need action. I say to the Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity that the Scottish Government cannot just pronounce its support for a just transition in principle, establish a commission and all the rest of it if it will not support that practically by providing the means.

That means that it is time for Government leadership. That means bringing into line the powerful global corporations that have, for many years, dominated UK continental shelf oil and gas energy production, and which are now set to dominate UK continental shelf renewable energy production. This, in the end, is the job of Government: it is to use its power and to use all of its considerable influence on behalf of the people, so that the vision of a net zero carbon future is accompanied by a radical but credible plan of action that puts people first, is on the side of the offshore workers and gives hope to communities—hope of climate action, justice and jobs.

Due to the number of members who still wish to speak, I am minded to accept a motion without notice to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Mercedes Villalba.]

Motion agreed to.

13:24  

I congratulate my good friend Ms Villalba on securing the debate and speaking with such expertise, insight and passion about an issue that is critical to skilled workers throughout Scotland.

With COP26 just a matter of days away, our transition to a green economy, with a detailed plan for a green new deal, is more important than ever. The topic of this debate will be vital if Scotland is to keep pace on its climate targets while ensuring a just transition for workers and communities.

We all know how important the oil and gas industry has been for the country, and particularly for the north-east of Scotland. The latest “Workforce & Employment Insight” to be published by Oil & Gas UK estimates that, in 2020, the industry supported almost 120,000 jobs across the UK, 36 per cent of which are based in Scotland. Of those workers, 55 per cent are under the age of 45 and 92 per cent are under the age of 60. All those people will have to live through the transition, and we must be there for them.

Just this week, the Scottish Government announced that unlimited extraction of oil and gas from the North Sea is “fundamentally wrong”. I completely agree with that position, and I only wish that the First Minister would be more steadfast in her opposition by opposing the new Cambo oil field.

Apparently, around 3,500 jobs would be connected with Cambo. Where is the just transition that Mr Sweeney proposes for them?

It is an important challenge, and one that we must respond to robustly. That is the backdrop that I will now come on to.

In the debate, we keep talking about the just transition, but where is it? Yes, we must move to a green economy at a rapid rate, but sadly we are not seeing the renewable energy jobs appear at the pace that is necessary to drive a true green industrial revolution. It is all well and good to prepare the ground for the skills, but if there is not the demand from new sectors to pull in that labour, we are simply on a hiding to nothing.

It will not surprise the Parliament that I think that there has been precisely no just transition for workers and communities. In this country we like to talk a good game, but the actions of the Government simply do not live up to the rhetoric. In fact, we have surrendered sovereignty over these matters to faceless men, in boardrooms far from Scotland, who determine the key investment decisions over the sector. We have been found wanting, as a branch plant economy in the sector.

In 2010, the Scottish Government’s low carbon strategy predicted that there would be 130,000 low carbon and renewable energy jobs in the country by 2020, with 28,000 direct jobs in the offshore wind sector alone. The reality is that there are 23,000 direct jobs in the entire low carbon and renewable energy economy. Are we going to say that that is good enough, when we face such pressure? Is it any wonder that workers in the oil and gas industry have no faith whatsoever in the Government when it says that jobs will be available to them when the extraction of oil and gas inevitably comes to an end?

The mess that has been made of the opportunity to develop Scotland’s manufacturing base on the back of our transition to a green economy is no longer even contested by the Government. The facts speak for themselves, and they are embarrassing. We see it in every single offshore wind development.

For SSE Renewables and Total’s £5.7 billion Seagreen project off the coast of Angus, how many of the 114 turbine jackets were manufactured in Scotland? None. Each and every one of them was offshored to China and the United Arab Emirates, only to be transported back to Scotland on diesel-burning barges. For the Neart na Gaoithe wind farm off the coast of Fife, the 54 complex Siemens Gamesa turbines will be manufactured abroad. The Harland and Wolff yards in Methil, which are merely 10 miles away from the development, will manufacture just 15 per cent of the steel jacket foundations.

That is not good enough. I could not be more supportive of the calls that have been made today, but we need to match them with a demand to ramp up the offshore renewable energy sectors so that they can pull that workforce into them. The Scottish Government needs to get a grip on that, and it needs to provide certainty to workers in the oil and gas sector that it will address those barriers to entry.

A standardised offshore training passport would do just that. We also need to place obligations on industry bodies, such as OPITO, to step up to the challenge. We need to enable those workers to begin the skills transition that needs to happen if we are to meet our climate ambitions and ensure that there is a just transition.

I strongly urge the minister to commit to that agenda and to the demands that my colleagues have made today, if the Government is in any way serious about ensuring that workers are protected during our inevitable transition to a new green economy. I am afraid that the rhetoric will just not do any more. Those workers have been strung along for far—

Mr Sweeney, could you please bring your remarks to a close. You have gone over your time.

I commend the motion in Mercedes Villalba’s name.

Katy Clark will be the last speaker before the minister responds. You have up to four minutes, Ms Clark.

13:29  

It is my great pleasure to congratulate Mercedes Villalba on securing what is a very timely debate, now that COP26 delegates are arriving in Scotland for what will be vital negotiations for all of us who live on this planet.

It is my particular pleasure to add my name to the call for offshore training passports. One of the key points about this demand is that the proposal has come from both climate change activists and trade unionists representing offshore workers. That model of working together is one that we should be endorsing; indeed, we should not only support it but push for it to happen in what we do as we move forward. We need to work together and bring together those with key interests.

As has already been said, there has never been a more important time for us to have a green new deal. Since this Parliament declared a climate emergency, North Sea production has increased by 15 per cent. In reality, very few green jobs have been created over that period, and there have been other debates in which some of those statistics have been cited. However, that is not because there is no potential for green jobs. The Scottish Trades Union Congress, for example, has estimated that up to 350,000 new green jobs could be created in Scotland, with the right policies on renewable energy, hydrogen storage, building and retrofitting social housing and upgrading and expanding public transport. There is therefore massive capacity for job creation with just transition and a green economy. However, as working-class communities know from what has happened in the past, it is ordinary working people who usually pay the price for economic change. The reality is that there has never been a just transition.

A recent survey of offshore oil and gas workers that was published earlier this year revealed that over 90 per cent of them are concerned about training costs in the UK offshore energy industry and the fact that they are paying in the region of £1,800 a year each in training. It says much about workers’ rights in this country that nearly two thirds of those workers are receiving no financial contribution to that training from their employers. The insecure nature of the work in the sector is exacerbating the problem; 75 per cent of the workforce are hired as contractors on an ad hoc basis and 60 per cent of those who get a new job are required by employers to duplicate training and get qualifications that they already possess.

That is a central issue for the sector, and the Scottish Government needs to act, particularly because of the way in which this demand has come about. The UK and Scottish Governments have failed to deliver the strategic training bodies that would agree common industry standards, or to push for the creation of an offshore training passport. The Scottish Government’s programme for government failed to provide any detail on how its proposed skills guarantee will work in practice and what funding it will receive. As we have heard, the green jobs workforce academy has done little more than create a website. Moreover, the UK Government’s offshore wind sector deal and recently published net zero strategy offers only warm words on the need for a skills transition.

With COP26 about to start and a Green MSP in the ministerial seat, I hope that the Scottish Government will start to look at whether the energy skills alliance can be tasked with creating an offshore training passport. It is already undertaking a programme of work to develop energy apprenticeships that standardise training for new entrants into the industry—

Ms Clark, could you please conclude? You are over your time.

I urge the minister to come forward with a proposal for standardisation to assist all workers in this sector.

I call the minister, who, as has been noted, is joining us remotely.

13:34  

I thank Mercedes Villalba for securing the debate and everybody who has contributed to it. I am so sorry not to be joining members in the chamber in person.

I would be delighted to meet Ms Villalba to discuss her three points. I agree that the costs that she described are prohibitive and that the duplication of training is frustrating. In my speech, I will follow up on the current related work of the energy skills alliance.

I have been looking into offshore passports under the green skills element of my portfolio. I really value members’ input on that matter, and I will certainly follow up with Maggie Chapman on the funding that she referenced. Having worked offshore in marine energy, I know how much potential there is in Scotland for the sector and how important offshore passports will be for my former colleagues and all offshore workers.

One of the developments in recent months that I am really pleased about is that we are starting to see references to “offshore energy” and the “offshore energy industry”. That seems to be in the spirit of what we are talking about today. It is not about pitting oil and gas workers against offshore renewables workers; it is about recognising the overlap of skills and expertise in all offshore energy industries. I know first hand the hazards of working offshore and how much training, experience and sheer hard work is needed to develop the expertise to work safely in harsh conditions to keep providing the energy that we all depend on. I absolutely agree that we need to make it as easy as possible for workers to transition their skills between different sources of offshore energy.

This is an issue of particular importance now, as the eyes of the world look to Scotland in the run-up to COP26, and it is part of our commitment to a just transition to net zero emissions that delivers for communities and businesses across Scotland. However, the question of skills passports is long-standing; it has been an issue since the previous downturn, in 2014. I understand that it is a complicated issue and that even the term “skills passport” is somewhat contentious in the energy sector.

All workers want a common set of safety, technical and work site standards across the whole offshore energy sector, as well as the simplification of certification, recognition and transferability between roles. Members who have spoken in the debate will be pleased to hear that, although there are a number of existing passport schemes provided by industry bodies across the offshore energy industry, further work is in progress.

OPITO—the global, not-for-profit, skills body for the oil and gas industry—through the energy skills alliance, which includes representation from trade unions, industry and the UK and Scottish Governments, is working with industry bodies to create a solution that enables easier skills transferability across offshore energy. The purpose of the work that the ESA is undertaking is to create the safe, skilled and mobile workforce that is needed to deliver the energy transition and retain those high-value jobs in Scotland. We recognise that training, standards and certification are critical to safe working offshore, and we want to ease the transition of workers in a just and affordable way.

The ESA work programme was established to create an integrated skills strategy for a net zero energy industry across Scotland and the UK. It will address the mapping of future energy skills demand, the development of all-energy training and standards, the implementation of all-energy apprenticeships and the launch of the my energy future programme.

The question of skills transferability is also central to the North Sea transition deal, which includes the on-going work of the ESA and the commitment to creating an integrated people and skills plan, with measurable objectives, to support its transition and diversification.

The work that I have been describing, which is led by OPITO, will seek to link up—where it will add value—with initiatives on workforce transition and skills that are being undertaken through other sector deals, such as the offshore wind sector deal. The collective findings and recommendations will be presented to the UK Government by March 2022 as part of the people and skills plan for the North Sea transition deal.

The fundamental question is how we as a Government can complement and accelerate those efforts, and I appreciate members’ support and enthusiasm for that. I have asked officials to arrange for me to engage with OPITO and the ESA, in particular, to find out how I and the Scottish Government can support their work on skills transferability.

We are committed to achieving a transition to net zero emissions in a just, inclusive and managed way, ensuring that no worker or community is left behind. Previous transitions have seen spikes in unemployment and social ferment; they have damaged trust and diminished opportunities. As a Government, we will not repeat those mistakes. Instead, we will work with partners across Scotland to collectively seize the opportunities that the transition presents to us.

It is our intention that our recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic is a green one, with support for new roles to support the transition to net zero. We are currently supporting retraining opportunities in vibrant, growing industries such as forestry and land management, green construction and heat decarbonisation. In doing so, we are promoting not only high-quality, skilled jobs but a recovery that contributes to a greener future for all.

Equipping people with the skills that they need to shape their careers is critical to our collective success, as is ensuring that individuals are confident that they will be supported as and when they need assistance.

13:40 Meeting suspended.  

14:30 On resuming—