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Put Yorkshire at heart of green industrial revolution – Justine Greening

Whenever new innovations and new industry arrives, it’s a chance for things to get shaken up and reinvented in terms of how they’re done and, crucially, where they’re done.

“/>Teesside Wind Farm near the mouth of the River Tees off the North Yorkshire coast. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
Teesside Wind Farm near the mouth of the River Tees off the North Yorkshire coast. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
Before the tech industry got going, aside from Stanford University, what’s now called Silicon Valley was a relatively nondescript place in California.

Today, decades later, it’s the technology hub of the world. The continued innovation means a continued investment stream and demand for skills that has created millions of jobs, careers and prosperity.

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It’s not often that such a ‘reinvention’ moment happens but our country has more experience in them than most. The first Industrial Revolution was born right here in Britain and shaped this country’s fortunes. Places like Yorkshire were at its centre.

It was coal from mines regionally that powered our industrial centres across the North. In Scotland, oil and gas from the North Sea brought prosperity to the granite city of Aberdeen and helped fuel the UK economy’s growth.

Now as we shift away from fossil fuels and look to new green energy sources to deliver on net zero emissions by 2050, we reach a moment where we need to reinvent our economy. But it presents another inflexion moment to reinvent opportunity too. As I wrote in The Yorkshire Post only last month, net zero and levelling up are two sides of the same coin.

Having been at the heart of the first industrial revolution in the 19th century, it’s right that this region is at the heart of this new green industrial revolution in the 21st century. It’s a revolution that will touch all of our lives wherever we live – from the products we use, to how we travel and how we heat our homes.

As the Prime Minister rightly set out in his 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, the prospect of a second wave of massive innovation and investment can not only deliver a more sustainable economy, it can be how we deliver a levelled-up Britain too.

These are the two great challenges we face – planet and people. A sustainable, successful future means delivering on both fronts, not just one. This is a once in a generation chance to reinvent opportunity in Britain, making it fairer and more accessible.

For companies it means understanding that if they employ people, they don’t just sell goods or services, they trade in opportunities too.

If businesses can act more strategically, working with schools to build talent, and in communities where opportunities can make the most difference, they can be a real force for good.

For universities, it’s a chance for reinvention. Perhaps traditional red brick universities have been the go-to place for businesses to recruit into traditional professions, but new careers in new green industries should be an opportunity for newer universities, like Bradford, York, and Lincoln, to now be supplying the talent pipelines for the green economy of the future.

It’s a chance for a healthy changing of the guard. And those universities that are more vocationally focused and hungry to build partnerships with businesses in the newer sectors, can now not only grow as the engines of social mobility they already are, but in doing so, provide the talent brand new industries are looking for.

For government, it means a joined-up plan that recognises that a new green economy needs skills. That means not only reskilling and retraining people for these green roles of the future, but it’s also crucial to step up investment in education as well.

Boris Johnson’s Ten Point Plan shows ‘what’ needs to be delivered for a net zero ambition to be realised. He also needs to set out a levelling up plan for education and skills that tackles ‘how’ it will be delivered.

The disruption that Covid-19 has brought to the 2020 school year cannot be allowed to get in the way of young people learning the skills they need for the new green industry opportunities arriving on their doorstep.

Our teachers have been on the front line of keeping education going as the Covid-19 pandemic has raged. As they get to the end of an exhausting year, none of us should lose sight of the utterly crucial role teachers will play in developing the talent our country needs to reach net zero.

Covid-19 underlined that a healthy economy needs healthy people, but a green economy needs green skills. Government must recognise the importance of working ‘upstream’ on levelling up through the learning and development that happens in our nurseries, schools and colleges.

Ministers must move on from the challenges opening schools and the A-level grades fiasco and now bring our education system together through a common ambition of levelling up.

Education needs a long-term plan on levelling up with the right resourcing alongside and with targeted action through a new wave of Opportunity Areas.

The Chancellor’s Spending Review next week is a pivotal moment. We have a Net Zero 10 Point Plan to spread opportunity.

Let’s now have the second part that makes it happen – a levelling up plan to develop all of our nation’s talent.

Justine Greening is a former Education Secretary and head of the Social Mobility Pledge. She was born in Rotherham.

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2020-11-21 10:45:00

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