Is green tech the future for employment in the UK?
Experience to date would suggest that the UK is lagging behind other countries in this sector and that unless more is done, we will miss out on the opportunity green tech offers.
Take, for example, the car industry and the recent fall into administration of Britishvolt based near Blyth, Northumberland. The enterprise had been heralded as having the potential to bring 3,000 jobs to the Northeast and to kickstart the UK EV battery making industry in support of the wider car industry within the UK. However, the ambition was not matched by reality. Instead, the collapse into administration resulted in the majority of its 300 employees being made redundant immediately, resulting in distress for the employees and additional financial claims (including protective award claims for failing to inform/consult, notice, holiday, redundancy and wages claims) to the NIF.
One potential solution in such a situation is to seek a sale of the viable part of the business and to transfer employees under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations to the buyer, thereby protecting jobs as far as possible. Although efforts were made in this case to secure a rescue bid from investors for a majority sale of the business, unfortunately a sale was not agreed in time to avoid the redundancies. However, on a more positive note, a recent announcement has seen the Australian firm, Recharge Industries, buying Britishvolt out of administration with its remaining employees transferring as part of the deal. Britishvolt’s liabilities will have been the subject of negotiation between the administrator and the purchaser Recharge Industries depending on the on the exact terms of the deal.
So, what went wrong for Britishvolt?
For a start, by the end of 2022 Britishvolt had failed to develop a working battery prototype and had still not managed to obtain a tie up with an established large scale car maker and its associated technology. This, alongside the estimated £3.8 billion cost of setting up the factory, meant the investment gap was almost impossible to close without large-scale, long-term commitments from both the private and public sector.
The lack of an overall EV car strategy also meant that there was no informed, long-term assessment of Britishvolt’s significance to such a plan and the appropriate level of funding commitments. A clear EV strategy matters on so many levels: from how to move away from a carbon economy to how to meet the fast-approaching 2030 cut-off date for the manufacture of petrol and diesel engines in the UK. Also, given UK car production is largely reliant on batteries sourced outside of Europe, it is fundamental to ensuring that cars manufactured in the UK can meet the ‘rules of origin status’ requirements to benefit from preferential customs (tariffs) treatment under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the UK and the EU.
What is clear is that green tech is part and parcel of the UK car industry going forwards. Those in the know, say the UK needs to set up five or six gigabyte factories by the end of the decade to avoid a collapse of the UK car industry - an industry which supports around 800,000 jobs at present, and which should continue to support high levels of employment in the future. But that is also dependent on upskilling employees to ensure they have the skills needed in this new era.
What can the UK do?
If we look across the English Channel our European neighbours are getting their act together when it comes to green tech.
Sticking with the example of the car industry, as far back as 2017, the European Battery Alliance (EBA250) was established to address the industrial challenge posed by the massive migration from fossil to electric vehicles and the capitalize on what is calculated to be a €250 billon annual market value from 2025 onwards.
Today, EBA250 is a project-driven community which brings together more than 800 industrial and innovation actors, from mining to recycling, with the common objective to build a strong and competitive European battery industry (you can read more about it here).
But, there is hope for the UK yet. The Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee has announced it will conduct an inquiry into the failure of Britishvolt, which will probe the supply of batteries for the UK EV manufacturing industry.
As Darren Jones MP, chair of the committee, said: “The future of car manufacturing in the UK is dependent on our ability to make electric vehicles, and to be able to export them into the EU. That means we need local supplies of electric vehicle batteries – something we’re falling significantly behind on compared to other parts of the world. This inquiry will look at what’s holding back the development of electric car batteries in the UK and what needs to be done to protect the thousands of jobs across the country in this important sector.”
Green tech is the key
Despite the experience of Britishvolt, green tech is something all employers should be embracing as consumers and customers become ever more environmentally conscious. In December 2022 UK car sales figures showed that electric vehicle sales outstripped those of diesel vehicles for the first time, coming in second behind petrol vehicle sales. It is clear that green tech is here to stay, and it is important that all UK employers embrace this in a strategic way, with necessary investment in capital and skills development, if they are to future-proof their business and secure jobs for the future.
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