Green jobs are the only way to stem regional ‘brain drains’

Providing more investment for green jobs and skills is the single most useful thing this government could do, writes UK100 director, Polly Billington. 

Every year, bright young things pack their bags and head to cities like London in the hope of finding well-paid, sustainable employment. The path is so well trodden, the average age of the towns they leave behind is rising year on year – so says Centre for Towns. According to ONS statistics, the average age in Manchester, for example, is 30.1 – compared with Scarborough’s 50.1. Once in the capital, these fledglings battle with precarious work, overcrowded tubes and extortionate rents while back home, communities suffer from a dearth of talent and investment.

When the Tories broke through the Red Wall in 2019, there was a lot of talk that this really would be the start of ‘levelling up the North’. This year’s round of local elections have proven that communities in the North East and Midlands are desperate for that message to come true. When Tory Teesside mayor, Ben Houchen, first won in 2017, no one could believe his success; since then, he’s actually delivered on a number of his pledges: initiating the successful campaign to have part of the Treasury moved to Teesside, providing £14m of backing towards a Hydrogen Transport Hub and committing more money for EV charging point infrastructure and hydrogen refuelling stations in Middlesbrough and Redcar. Last week, he rode home with an eye watering 73% of the vote. In the West Midlands, ambitious, Conservative mayor Andy Street has a record of pragmatic delivery which again, has cemented his place at the top of the local food chain.

It’s clear that people want security and prosperity. That can’t come as a surprise, particularly given the fact that the under-35s account for 80% of UK unemployment in the wake of the pandemic. Large swathes of young people have found themselves without jobs, and the numbers are only likely to swell once furlough comes to an end in September. Three quarters of the population believes that there is a sustainable solution to this employment crisis, however: more good green jobs.

According to recent polling by Ipsos Mori (commissioned by UK100), 75% of people in England think that more green jobs are key to the Covid recovery. Last month, Labour unveiled a £30bn plan to deliver 400,000 new green jobs – so why didn’t people vote for it? While our research may have discovered a real appetite for sustainable employment, not enough of the public have been briefed about what green jobs actually are, how immediately they could be started and how secure they might be. Could the average person point to what a green employment revolution in, say, Redcar, might look like?

The irony is that the potential for green growth in the areas that need it is huge – with ambitious steps already being taken by local decision leaders. Newcastle has one of the most ambitious Net Zero plans in the country, while huge numbers of workers in places like Bradford and Hull already have the skills needed to be employed in these areas – and could help to train up the next generation. Imagine a future where our children can enjoy secure, well-paid jobs that they can grow and develop in – without the fear of industrial collapse that has plagued so many communities in the North East.

So, what might these ‘green jobs’ look like? Leeds’ five-year Climate Emergency Community Action Programme (CECAP) plans to create 40 local jobs in communications, research and community coordination that will have a big focus on training and empowering young people. Further south, the West Midlands Combined Authority has set up a Zero Carbon Homes taskforce that is working towards ensuring that all new homes built in the region are climate resilient and carbon free. That’s going to mean green jobs in construction, design and more. Research we have published indicates that there needs to be a green van man retrofit army of 500,000 workers just to make our homes energy efficient. In Cardiff, an ultra low emissions vehicle strategy is going some way to creating sustainable investment and job opportunities in the region, from engineers to city planners and public transport drivers.

Providing more investment for green jobs and skills is the single most useful thing this government could do to assure newly Conservative regions and other areas of the country that they’re no longer going to be left behind. It’s time to demand better opportunities for current and future generations.

Find out more about UK100 and the potential for more green jobs at

Photo Credit – Pixabay


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