Energy secretary Amber Rudd has dismissed the threat posed by subsidy cuts to the UK’s background of solar skills and insisted the industry has a “bright future”.
However the claim follows a department admission that its own labour force is to be reorganised to address new challenges, with a number of staff set to be seconded to the National Infrastructure Commission.
Rudd’s claim came during a select committee hearing yesterday, during which she was pressed by chair Angus Macneil on what the solar and onshore wind industries might have thought on comments she had made regarding the need to safeguard skills in the nuclear industry.
Macneil questioned Rudd on whether she considered solar skills to be just as important as those in the nuclear field. She responded by stating that solar was a “more straight forward area” to be involved in and that nuclear skills have a “different complexion”.
“But of course, every job matters and I think solar will continue to have a great future in the UK,” Rudd added.
But Rudd’s comments come amidst substantial concern over the potential loss of jobs caused by plans to cut the feed-in tariff by 87% and impose deployment caps on the technology.
The Solar Trade Association has estimated that as many as 27,000 jobs could be lost across the entire UK solar supply chain, a blow which many have argued the industry could recover from in time for the technology to reach grid parity.
And while Rudd insists she is confident that skills will not be lost in solar, her own department is to shed some 200 jobs – 12.5% of its headcount – as part of a restructure as its priorities have changed.
DECC permanent secretary Stephen Lovegrove said yesterday that DECC’s headcount had grown significantly in order to tackle a “large and heavy workload” relating to the ongoing energy market reform process. However this work is now drawing to a close and, as such, DECC staff are being reorganised. A voluntary exit scheme is currently in place to help achieve this target with this month’s spending review also looming.
“Clearly in today’s environment we are conscious of the need to make a contribution to general deficit reductions,” Lovegrove admitted.
DECC’s headcount could shrink further still with a number of staff also set to be seconded to the newly formed National Infrastructure Commission which has been tasked with deciding on long-term infrastructure strategy for the Treasury.
Lovegrove admitted that staff could be sent to Lord Adonis’ NIC in order to prevent duplication of skill sets. Preliminary meetings have taken place between the two departments and Rudd she welcomed the commission’s establishment.
When it was formed last month there were queries over how the commission would work alongside DECC given their remits on energy policy appeared similar, leading many to consider whether or not the Treasury would be having far more of a final say on energy policy and investment in the future given much-publicised problems with spending under the levy control framework.
Rudd however dismissed these when questioned yesterday. “I think it [the NIC] elevates the department more than anything else. The more investment we have from the Treasury, the better,” she added.