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Business leaders tell Shadow Energy Secretary Ed Miliband: ‘Remove the blocks and let us clean up the Humber faster’ 

WE don’t want money – just make bold decisions and let us get on with decarbonising the Humber and building for the future – that was the clear message voiced by the biggest businesses in the Humber when they met with the Shadow Energy Secretary Ed Miliband at the Hull & Humber Chamber of Commerce.

Ed Miliband talking to Humber business leaders during the meeting at the Chamber’s offices in Hull.

Business leaders from Ineos Acetyles, Equinor, Drax, Orsted, Able UK, Prax Group, Phillips 66, Lindsey Oil Refinery, Smith & Nephew, Reckitts, Spencer Group and numerous others all made clear requests of present and future Governments to sweep the red tape out of their way and put the infrastructure in place to let these major businesses thrive in this region.

The former Labour Party leader who has praised the Humber 2030 Vision document was knowledgeable and enthusiastic as he outlined his Party’s plans to create GB Energy, a publicly-owned generation company. Ed Miliband listened carefully and questioned the company representatives in turn to establish precisely what blocks these major industries are facing and what needs to happen to get things moving faster in the Humber.

Business leaders around the Chamber table have billions of pounds to invest in the Humber, but much of that investment would be anticipatory he was told, and there was a need for certainty from Government that if that investment is made, contracts will follow. Businesses needed to have that confidence in place to bring those investment plans to fruition.

David Brooks, the Chief Executive of Ineos Acetyles UK had travelled from London to attend. He told the meeting:

“The Government saying yes or no was very important. If you have ambitions for carbon zero in the Humber for 2030 BEIS needs to step up. Sometimes investment carries risk, but sometimes you have to take risks. The private sector does demand action and promptness to commit, otherwise they lose the confidence to invest.”

Marcus Walker from Able UK echoed the issues around risk.

“The Government needs to underwrite the risks to expand all of the Humber ports – at the minute this is not happening”

Chamber Chief Executive Dr Ian Kelly, highlighted:

“The Chamber originally created the Enterprise Zones around the Humber when it established the Humber LEP at former Secretary of State Greg Clark’s request. These are now home to Siemens in Hull and Orsted in Grimsby. We can move further and faster on carbon zero Humber if Whitehall and Westminster can be bolder in their decision making.”

The two major Humber refineries were represented by Jenny Sutcliffe from Phillips 66 and Luc Smets from LOR. Jenny said the Humber Refinery really needed a decision on Track 1 and then on Track 2 plans and it was important to make sure that the project is there but they need that commitment from BEIS. The Government will determine whether they meet requirements, but the refineries could progress work more quickly if the civil servants would give the green light more rapidly.”

Ed Miliband was sympathetic, noting he was keen to get to the bottom of what the blockers are, so we can get things moving.

It was also highlighted that both refineries were having difficulties finding skilled people and contractors to work on the shutdowns and they needed to bring people in from abroad which is now very difficult after Brexit.

Emma Toulson from Orsted told the meeting:

“We have invested £14-billion in infrastructure and created the largest offshore wind hub in the world and it’s based in Grimsby. Hornsea 3 and 4 will cost another £14-billion which then becomes £30-billion investment potential, but we need access to the grid and planning permissions if we are to reach our ambition of 50GW by 2030 – it’s not too far away now!

“We all need to work together to decarbonise the Humber.”

Jason Speedy, from Groupe Atlantic, raised the issue of transitioning to heat pumps and other domestic fuel sources. There will be no natural gas boilers sold from 2025 which is leading to great uncertainty for the industry. They are trying to incentivise the boiler manufacturers to produce heat pumps instead of gas boilers, but consumer take-up is still very low because of the cost.”

That prompted a discussion about skills shortages – a lack of engineers to install heat pumps, hydrogen heating systems and new technology, with the current ageing fitters preferring to stay with the gas boilers they know rather than retrain. Social housing is also challenging – solar panels are being retro-fitted but there are no funds to install battery storage units to store the solar energy for use when it’s needed in the evenings. There were also issues with fitting electric vehicle charging points because of the cost of installing a suitable power supply.

Ed noted how there was a need for a strategy that recognises the requirement of a wide mix of energy sources.

The closure of Doncaster Airport and its affect on Humberside Airport was raised by Deborah Zost, who also highlighted issues on skills gaps and their affect on the ability to scale up operations.

Ed seized on the skills issues and told the meeting it needs someone to look at all this in the round. “This isn’t about Party politics,” he said.

“The decisions that are needed are in the national interest and I want to push the current Government to make these decisions”.

Offering the vote of thanks, former Scunthorpe MP Sir Nic Dakin thanked Ed for coming to the Humber to meet our business leaders. “The Humber is up for the challenge and we need to make it happen – together we can!”

Ed thanked everyone for their insights into the issues they face and said he wants to continue these conversations, promising: “I’ll be back – this has been a really useful discussion.”

MAIN PICTURE CAPTION: Ed Miliband (second right) in discussions before the meeting with (from left) former Labour MP John Grogan, Chamber President Mike Whitehead, Chamber Chief Executive Dr Ian Kelly and Chamber Vice President and Chair of the Shipping, Transport and Renewables Committee Albert Weatherill (right).

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