SCOTLAND’S economy can go green while driving a new 'industrial revolution' with the help of new Future Jobs Fund to help the unemployed and a publicly owned ethical construction commpany.

That is the vision of trade unionists as calls are made for wide-ranging reforms and sustained stimulus as part of the UK’s recovery from the coronavirus crisis, urging the government to learn lessons from the first post-war Labour government.

A new report by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), which represents most UK unions, says concerns over soaring public debt are overblown and calls for austerity cuts misplaced. But it highlights going green as part of a recovery that would cut carbon emissions and create jobs, while including support for investment in clean industry and transport, making buildings net-zero, carbon capture and storage.

The plan would also seek to take better advantage of Scotland’s green energy revolution, which the Herald revealed was increasingly being placed in the hands of overseas firms.

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Camley's Cartoon: Green energy jobs.

In Scotland, the Scottish Trades Union Congress has revealed it wants to see a new Future Jobs Fund to back a construction and "deep" retrofit housing programme, to make existing homes more environmentally friendly, while creating "good quality" jobs and driving decarbonisation of heat, reducing emissions and fuel bills.

In 2009, in the wake of a financial crisis which resulted in the bailout of banks the threat of high youth unemployment loomed, and the government created the Future Jobs Fund, which paid employers a wage subsidy to take on young people.

The Scottish government has set itself a legally-binding target to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2045, five years ahead of the date set for the UK as a whole.

But experts say to manage this it is vital we cut the energy required for domestic space and hot-water heating to a minimum and use only zero-carbon sources.

An upgrade to our existing housing stock to be become energy-efficient means improving the fabric of the buildings.

STUC deputy general secretary Dave Moxham said that capital investment should go into a "better regulated" construction sector and "serious consideration" given to the creation of a Scottish National Construction company.

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"Scotland’s housing stock, with a high proportion of tenement properties, is not the easiest to retrofit with energy saving measures such as insulation and new heating systems, however progress on deep retrofit has been identified as one of the key elements in achieving net zero," he said.

"There has also been a tendency to shallow retrofit building meaning that one emissions saving measure is introduced with other adaptations undertaken later on or not at all. This crisis and the need to plan better and create jobs provides an ideal opportunity establish a programme of deep-retrofit, nationally co-ordinated and locally delivered.

"It is analogous to the massive effort in the early 1970s when the UK converted millions of gas boilers to be offshore gas compliant, creating thousands upon thousands of jobs and massively boosting the economy. Such a programme is best driven by state investment and delivered through nationally co-ordinated or even a nationalised construction company. As well as providing a much needed boost for jobs and apprenticeships it would have a serious and positive impact on fuel poverty."

The Coalition for the Energy Efficiency of Buildings (CEEB) argues that such a retrofit programme would slash emissions, create jobs and could reboot a battered post-Covid economy.

The CEEB, which is backed by the UK government and the City of London Corporation, argues that such an approach would support more than 150,000 skilled and semi-skilled construction jobs, provide a quick economic stimulus and boost consumer spending through energy cost savings.

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Mr Moxham said lessons can be learned from the collapse of construction giant Carillion two years ago which cost UK taxpayers an estimated £148m.

When it was liquidated with debts of £1.5bn, the firm had about 420 UK public sector contracts.

"The collapse provided evidence of how an massive under-regulated private sector companies can fail with all real risk transferred to workers and the public sector," he said.

"A publicly owned construction company could guarantee better and less precarious employment practices twinned with a co-ordinated approach to green construction and retrofitting.

"Undertaking such actions requires investment and increases government indebtedness, however the nature of such government borrowing is that it is borrowing against its own future. "Thus a green Future Jobs Fund would see a massive expansion in the training of and provision of good jobs for young people. Taken in conjunction with overall economic boost it would provide one of the most effective ways to borrow to invest."

In 2010, a Scottish Government report stated the offshore wind sector alone offered the potential for 28,000 direct jobs and a further 20,000 jobs in related industries, as well as £7.1bn investment in Scotland by 2020.

The Scottish Government’s low carbon strategy described the large scale development of offshore wind as representing the “biggest opportunity for sustainable economic growth in Scotland for a generation” with Scotland having an estimated 25% of Europe’s offshore wind potential.

But in February, it emerged that it had in fact created just six per cent of the 28,000 direct jobs predicted. Official estimates stated that there were just 1,700 full-time jobs in the offshore wind sector in Scotland, a fraction of the numbers projected by 2020.

Mr Moxham said: "Thus far the then First Minister Alex Salmond's comments that Scotland would become the ‘Saudi Arabia’ of renewables has failed to materialise."

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He said there should be "much stricter conditionality" attached to contracts for renewable construction in Scotland to "ensure a radical improvement" in the number of local supply chain jobs in offshore and other renewables.

"It is essential that we offer meaningful and well-paid employment for those likely to suffer from the current and longer-term downturn in offshore oil and gas," he said.

His views come as the TUC called for the government to form a National Recovery Council to help the economy heal from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a report entitled A Better Recovery, the trade unions’ body has called for the government to ramp up social investment rather than introduce austerity measures, including an increase in the national minimum wage to £10 an hour, a public sector pay rise, a ban on zero hours contracts and a job guarantee scheme.

It said lessons can be learned from former prime minister Clement Attlee’s 1945 government, which inherited massive wartime debts but saw them slide rapidly as the economy recovered.

The Labour administration launched the NHS, a welfare safety net and mass housebuilding, nationalised industries and sought to boost demand to maintain full employment.d on short-term crisis management and wary about the rising costs of existing crisis measures.

TUC analysis showed that the decade of investment for growth between 1947 and 1957 that followed World War II achieved an average growth rate of 3.3 per cent. But the decade of cuts between 2009 and 2019 that followed the bankers’ crisis achieved average growth of just 1.9 per cent.

The National Recovery Council would be made up of representatives from government, unions and employers, with regional and devolved nation recovery panels also feeding into the planning and delivery of recovery strategies.

The state should also consider a “funded individual learning account” for jobless people to learn new skills, ideally with the promise of a job at the end of training.