Champions of alcohol industry now claim green jobs depend on London

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by G.A.Ponsonby

A research consultancy which last year produced a report challenging the SNP’s claims for minimum pricing for alcohol has produced another report, this time claiming Scotland’s renewable sector is ‘costing jobs’ and might fail without ‘UK subsidies’.

The new report called Worth the Candle? is from Verso Economics, a Kirkaldy based research and consultancy company headed by Richard Marsh and Ruth Brown.  A new study carried out by the firm claims to have found evidence that more jobs are lost than are created in Scotland’s green energy sector, 1.1 lost to every 1 created.

The report’s authors also claim that Scotland’s fledgling renewable industry is being subsidised to the tune of £330 million by the rest of the UK.

Richard Marsh, who co-authored this latest report, said the case for green jobs “doesn’t stack up”.  The report’s other author Tom Miers claims that the renewable sector in Scotland depends upon subsidies from the rest of the UK.

Mr Miers said: “The Scottish renewables sector is very reliant on subsidies from the rest of the UK.

“Without this UK-wide framework, it would be very difficult to sustain the main policy tools used to promote this industry.”

However the report’s conclusions were ridiculed by Niall Stuart, head of Scottish Renewables, who described them as meaningless.  Mr Stuart also suggested the authors had undermined their own conclusions by ignoring climate change, the costs of nuclear energy and a recent increase in oil prices caused by the turmoil in the Middle East.

Mr Stuart said: “It is meaningless to look at renewable energy in isolation without looking at the complex interplay within the energy sector.

“The report completely overlooks the economic impact of climate change, the fact that wind and nuclear have almost identical costs, and the ongoing spike in oil and gas prices as a result of the unrest in North Africa, all of which undermines the authors’ conclusions.”

The Scottish government also criticised the report and called it “misleading”, saying that investment through the private sector had no impact on public sector budgets and that tax revenue would actually increase.  They also dismissed the authors’ claims that Scotland’s renewable sector survived on handouts from the rest of the UK.

A Scottish government spokesman said: “This report is misleading.  Investment in energy by the private sector, which is ultimately paid for by consumers, has absolutely no impact on public services or public sector budgets – in fact, it is likely that investment leads to increased tax revenue.

“We are in no doubt about the positive impact that investment in low carbon technologies can have.  Nor are major international companies like Mitsubishi that are investing £100m in offshore wind in Scotland, or domestic companies like Scottish and Southern Energy who are investing £100m in sustainable energy in Glasgow.”

He denied the suggestion that UK consumers subsidised Scotland and argued that Scottish renewable resource meant that the benefit travelled in the other direction.

He added: “Our abundant renewable resources assist all UK suppliers with their obligation to source a percentage of their sales from renewable generation – without this, the costs to deliver renewable ambitions and obligations across the UK and Europe would be significantly higher.”

However many will question how a report from a research company less than two years old is able to find such a prominent position in BBC Scotland political news.

In December 2009, just weeks after being set up,  Verso received commissions from the Scotch Whisky Association, one of which resulted in a report that cast doubt on the economic benefits of the SNP’s minimum price for alcohol plans.  The Verso report claimed that introduction of minimum pricing could have led to “Scotland’s economy lingering in recession for longer or inviting a double dip recession.”

The report featured prominently in the Scottish media, including BBC Scotland, and was used by the Labour party and some drinks manufacturers in order to attack the SNP’s groundbreaking alcohol initiative.

This latest, now high profile, attack on an area seen as central to the SNP’s economic plans and one that is crucial to the debate on energy supply will be viewed with suspicion by many coming as it does so close to an election.

Criticism of Scotland’s green energy sector, and the support it receives from the SNP, featuring so prominently on BBC Scotland news – given the corporation’s apparent reluctance to cover other crucial energy stories –  will do little to appease an ever increasing number of Scots who now view the state broadcaster with suspicion.