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Floating Offshore Wind – [Dame Angela Eagle in the Chair] | Westminster Hall debates

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Angela.

We have had a short but very good debate, and the enthusiasm for floating offshore wind has come across loud and clear. The SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman), was right to say that there is a lot of agreement across the board about what we should be doing.

I congratulate the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on securing the debate and on her very good speech. All the speakers so far have made a really good case for why we need a national industrial strategy that pulls together all these different levers so that we can get jobs, skills, infrastructure and energy all working in the right way and in the right places. Labour would certainly do that in government, and I ask the Minister to consider doing it as well.

The hon. Member for North Devon talked very politely about AR5—indeed, we will all talk very politely about it—but it was clearly a catastrophe. I would be interested in the Minister’s views about the hon. Member’s suggestion that we try to speed up the next process.

My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Dame Nia Griffith) also made an excellent speech—my grandfather was from Llanelli, where he worked in a tinplate factory all his career. She talked about all the issues to do with floating offshore wind, as well as about steel, which was very interesting, and about the need for primary steel to remain in this country. Again, I would be interested in the Minister’s views on that.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen North talked enthusiastically, as she always does, about a range of issues, and she made some good points. The passporting of skills from oil and gas to renewables is really important. Somewhere in the mix, there is a big piece of work to do on that. We also need to look at things such as apprenticeships and how they work, because they are not flexible enough for today’s environment.

At the end of her speech, the hon. Member said that the industry in general just is not confident about investing in the UK, and that is absolutely at the core of all this. Even though I have been in this role for only eight weeks, the sense I have is that every single person needs stability—we need stability, we need certainty and we need things not to chop and change. When the Prime Minister changes a target, as he did for the automotive sector, it sends a message to wider industry, prompting it to ask, “Why would we invest here when we’re not really sure what is going to happen?”

Going back to floating offshore wind, moving away from fossil fuels and towards renewables is a huge opportunity, and floating offshore wind is at the absolute cutting edge of that change. As has been said, the technology represents a once-in-a-generation chance to create good, skilled jobs, bring down energy bills and put the UK at the forefront of the world.

The hon. Member for North Devon made the point that the price jump in energy was caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but of course the UK was worst affected because of our dependence on fossil fuels. So this is an opportunity to tackle that problem.

Analysis from the Global Wind Energy Council suggests that 80% of the world’s potential offshore wind resources are in deeper waters, which fixed turbines simply cannot reach, as the hon. Member said. Floating offshore wind allows us to capture the power of the stronger, more consistent winds that blow further out at sea, to harness the unique advantages that our island status affords us and to breathe new life into economies and communities around the Celtic and North seas.

With innovation, the cost of FLOW could be below the Government’s low wholesale price forecast as soon as 2032. There are loads of innovations in this space, such as artificial reefs, which can potentially help to enhance the marine environment as well. So there is a lot to be positive about.

We have already touched on the contracts for difference, which really was an energy security disaster: there was not a single offshore wind project bid, and two viable offshore projects missed out on long-term funding, adding to the cost of energy bills for families up and down the country. Of course, that catastrophe was avoidable. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli said that the Irish Government managed to navigate their way through this. Recently, at a conference, I talked with the energy Minister in Ireland, who explained what they did. Basically, they are more agile and more responsive to the needs of industry, and the Government have hopefully learned lessons from that. Of course, we welcomed the news yesterday that the Government have set the strike price for the next round of bidding, but what will matter for the success of AR6 are the as yet undecided elements of the framework: how big the pot will be, and how the Government will support the floating offshore supply chain in the meantime. It would be helpful if the Minister responded to some of those issues.

As we have said, new floating offshore wind projects are vital to our move away from fossil fuels, and they can and should be the source of good British jobs. However, the Government’s neglect of Britain’s infra- structure and industry means that much of the benefit of projects that do manage to secure funding is likely to be felt elsewhere. Their allergy to strategic industrial direction has meant that the largest floating offshore project in the UK had its foundations made in Spain and its turbines made and assembled in Rotterdam, and that the finished project was simply towed into Scottish waters. Jobs that could and should come to Britain are being held back by the fact that our critical infrastructure is not fit to support them. In the UK, we lack a clear route from project design to plugging into the grid—the grid has been mentioned before and will be mentioned again, and it is mentioned by every single industry representative I meet.

Our ports need major investment and upgrading to allow the manufacture and assembly of turbine components and their bases at the required size. Floating offshore turbines are mammoth structures, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen North knows from her perilous trip to see one, and we need to be making them in the UK. There is great potential to revitalise port infrastructure in this country, and in Scotland and the Celtic sea, for fixed and floating offshore wind. The floating offshore wind manufacturing investment scheme, which closed for applications at the end of the summer, and which represents £160 million to be spent across the whole UK, will not make the difference we need without serious strategic investment in our ports alongside it. We need our ports to be advanced for the most cutting-edge technologies to make the strongest difference to jobs and to power generation.

The Conservatives have had 13 years to show they can get a grip on the move to clean energy. Labour’s strategy is to drive this country’s floating offshore wind industry forward. Labour’s national mission for clean power by 2030 has set ambitious targets to rapidly expand the offshore wind industry as a whole, giving us 5 GW of floating wind power by 2030. We recognise the leading role that Britain can and should play in pioneering this technology, which is why we will help to accelerate floating offshore wind deployment and manufacturing. The national wealth fund will deliver renewable-ready ports, alongside good, well-paid jobs, hand in hand with the private sector.

Industry is still waiting for the Government to spend £160 million on ports; Labour will invest £1.8 billion over the Parliament to make sure our ports are renewable-ready and fit for the future, and we will use Great British Energy—a new, publicly owned energy company—to invest in floating offshore wind, so that Britain can lead the world. The market for floating wind is very new, meaning that Great British Energy can drive the sector forward, where the Conservatives have sat and left it alone. That will help to finally overturn the stagnation and offshoring of British jobs and manufacturing that has been caused by the neglect of the British wind power industry.

I hope the Minister can answer a few questions. Can he outline how the floating offshore wind supply chain is being supported in the absence of new projects in the past year? Can he update us on FLOWMIS? When will the allocations be given out? Can he ensure that the funding will be allocated fairly across the country, including in Wales, where there is such huge potential?

We talked about skills, and I would like the Minister to suggest that the Government might consider—perhaps in the autumn statement—some changes to the apprenticeship scheme, which would be helpful, and which Labour has called for. The grid is the single biggest obstacle we need to remove, and Labour has set out plans for how we will speed up the removal of barriers. We will need four times as much grid infrastructure to be built in the next seven years as has been built in the last 30. It would be good if the Minister could tell us how he will do that.

Where the Conservatives have cast floating offshore wind off to drift, Labour will drive it forward. Where the Conservatives are letting global leadership on FLOW technology slip through our fingers, Labour will pick up the ball. Where the Conservatives have left critical infrastructure such as ports gather dust, Labour will see them renewable-ready at long last. People around the country, and across all political parties, want to see the potential of the British people and of our island’s unique geography realised. I would very much appreciate hearing from the Minister how he will do that.