Gareth Clubb finds that the Welsh Government is prioritising jobs in dirty rather than green sectors of the economy
The Welsh Government has made great play of its focus on jobs – sometimes, it seems, at any cost and with scant regard for the environment. Carwyn Jones’ 2013 New Year statement revealed his “personal commitment” to ensure a focus on job creation in Wales over the next 12 months.
There is no apparent justification – other than jobs – for environmentally destructive developments such as a bizarre race-track in Blaenau Gwent, nuclear missiles in the Haven, fracking galore and a nuclear white elephant on Anglesey. What the Welsh Government fails to appreciate is that it’s possible to create thousands of well-paid jobs at the same time as benefiting the environment.
So we hear of taxpayers’ money splashed out for a race-track abutting the Brecon Beacons National Park on the frankly inconceivable promise of 6,000 jobs. We see that Carwyn “recognises the substantial economic benefits of relocating Britain’s nuclear submarine to west Wales” because of the “high quality, well paid jobs it would bring”. The potential environmental damage – 81 pollution incidents including 17 radiation leaks over a period of two years in Faslane – of no regard. Who cares, either, about the security of the energy industries in Milford Haven, not to mention the population of Pembrokeshire?
But it is in the field of energy where the employment debate is at its most polarised. Friends of the Earth Cymru has found that 3,000 jobs could be created in the Heads of the Valleys area in the green economy – if only the Welsh Government shared its level of ambition. But even though this is a policy area with astounding potential for genuinely sustainable job creation in retrofitting draughty housing and thrusting ahead with new renewable technologies, it’s the dirty industries that grab attention from the Welsh Government.
So the Welsh Government bent over backwards to ensure Pembroke power station was allowed to operate. It was no matter that four European Directives were breached in the process, with the potential to cause massive harm to a highly protected marine site.
Then there’s Wylfa. Despite Anglesey’s status as the fifth poorest region in the UK, Wylfa appears to be the sole strand to job creation on Anglesey. In Carwyn Jones’ mind, the “highly skilled jobs” that would be created are much more important than the radioactive waste that’ll be stored on Môn for 160 years, the potential for nuclear catastrophe, or the monumental cost. And that’s before taking into account the fact that more people in Wales are opposed to nuclear power than in favour, and even that most people in Anglesey are opposed to new nuclear development.
Meanwhile, it’s a welcome in the hillsides for fracking. The Welsh Government appears to be in hock with the UK Government’s unseemly rush to pour toxic chemicals into the rock strata underlying Wales. In response to Friends of the Earth Cymru’s petition against fracking, the Welsh Government stated that the “approach advocated in national planning policy is sufficiently robust” to protect the environment.
The First Minister has taken personal responsibility for the energy portfolio. What is his position on renewable energy?
Renewable UK Cymru have shown that 2,000 jobs would be created if the Welsh Government’s renewable energy aspirations were realised. These are real jobs, not fantasy fast-car or nuclear jobs. And if things progress at the current rate? Only 1,000 jobs, for a net loss of 1,000 jobs. And where is Carwyn Jones when these 1,000 jobs are in the balance because of unreasoned opposition from a vocal minority in Anglesey, Powys and Pembrokeshire?
Carwyn Jones tells us he will be chairing a “strategic delivery group [to] remove any barriers to achieving our vision”. But what exactly is the Welsh Government’s energy vision? The Energy Wales document tells us that, “We will set out our vision – clearly and consistently”. And a year on, we have a clear and consistent vision vacuum.