MAGGIE PAGANO: Unions support the North Sea
It’s a funny old world when the boss of one of the country’s biggest unions backs a Conservative government in its controversial decision to develop more oil and gas fields in direct contradiction to Labor policy.
Yet that is exactly the case for Gary Smith, leader of the GMB, the UK’s third largest union. Within hours of the North Sea Transition Authority giving the green light to Equinor and Ithaca Energy to develop the vast Rosebank oil field, Smith had given the go-ahead.
And it was an effusive welcome, with Smith saying Rosebank is precisely what the country needs to secure domestic supply and help us provide enough energy for decades to come.
GMB general secretary Gary Smith (pictured) backed the government’s plan to develop more oil and gas fields.
More pertinently, he added that developing this project is a better strategy than “doubling down on our dependence on imported gas, especially in an increasingly volatile world.” And a much better plan than having a ban. Sensible words from a sensible man.
If they didn’t know better, the outspoken Smith was obviously taking another hit by blowing up Keir Starmer’s so-called energy policy, which hinges on Labour’s ban on all new projects in the North Sea. Whether this was intentional or not, his comments should make Starmer squirm. Who knows?
But Smith is in a powerful position to stoke a proper debate; This union has more than 560,000 members working in most industrial sectors, from gas to retail. He is also one of the Labor Party’s most generous donors, giving around £2 million a year.
As the former gas service engineer has argued, Labour’s ban lacks intellectual rigour, is economically incoherent, will lead to a lack of investment in the country, the loss of thousands of jobs – particularly in Scotland – and will leave the UK at the mercy of volatile and often tyrannical exporters.
Such a ban will hit the poorest hardest, those who suffer most from rising energy bills and green taxes, which Smith has described as a modern-day poll tax. Unless blocked by the courts, the Rosebank development is a big deal for the UK in securing future energy supplies. The field is estimated to produce 69,000 barrels of oil per day, about 8 percent of the country’s projected daily production between 2026 and 2030, although there will be sales on the open market.
Located about 80 miles from the Shetlands, the field could also produce 44 million cubic feet of gas per day. It is often forgotten that we will need more fossil fuels (they already cover around 40 percent of all energy needs) during the transition period because they are needed as backup.
Even more interesting than Smith’s support for greater domestic energy security are his criticisms of the practicalities of the energy transition to renewables, which the Government and Labor should listen to.
The first is Smith’s challenge to the claim – made by environmental advocates – that the shift to cleaner energy will create thousands of homegrown green jobs. That’s nonsense, he says, and a betrayal. Most of the infrastructure (solar panels and wind turbines) is manufactured in Indonesia, China and even the Middle East. And not in places that need jobs like Grimsby or Blackpool.
His second criticism is that demonizing fossil fuel giants – or taxing them excessively on windfall profits – is foolish. These are the companies with the deepest pockets and the ones most likely to develop technologies for alternative sources such as hydrogen or floating wind platforms for cleaner energy in the future. Mr Sunak should invite Mr Smith to Number 10 for tea – they have plenty to chat about.
China’s new blockade
Hui Ka Yan, president of the giant Chinese real estate group Evergrande, in debt, has disappeared. Bloomberg reports that he was detained earlier this month and placed under surveillance. So far he has not been charged, but rumors are circulating about possible irregularities. Several wealth management employees were recently arrested.
Yan’s once-great empire is crumbling: Hengda Real Estate failed to pay principal and interest on its bonds this week and others are due soon. The next deadline is the end of October, when Evergrande – with $300 billion in liabilities – faces a liquidation hearing in Hong Kong. The authorities are unlikely to support the group, so chills are expected in the markets when Evergrande finally relaxes.
Aldi goes stylish
Aldi’s quest for 500 new stores is already underway. And the supermarket is moving upmarket – at the top of its target list are Kensington, Nottingham, Bath and Cambridge. We are all discount store experts now.
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