CONSERVATIVE “foot dragging” and coalition rows delayed investment in the North East, the deputy prime minister has admitted.
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg agreed offshore jobs have been slow to come and pointed to behind the scenes Cabinet arguments as the cause.
In an interview with The Journal, Mr Clegg said his party had previously pushed for investment while senior Conservative figures warned against a reliance on wind energy. But he insisted the battle over renewable energy had now been ‘fought and won by the Lib Dems’ in Government and promised growth to come.
Mr Clegg will today set out the Government’s intention to publish an industrial offshore energy strategy which may finally signal to major firms that they are safe to spend money in the sometimes contentious area.
Thousands of Tyneside jobs are dependent on Government support for the offshore oil, gas and energy sector, though many more expected to come have not done so amid the uncertainty. Only last week Newcastle East MP Nick Brown said in the House of Commons that there has been “a dramatic decline in levels of private sector investment in the renewables sector”.
Back in 2009 the Government was insisting work would soon start on helping the private sector build thousands of offshore turbines for locations such as Dogger Bank, 100 miles off the North East coast.
Since then one turbine factory set up in the region has closed down without production and another due to be built on land owned by the Port of Tyne has yet to finalise a deal.
Last month Lord Adonis admitted when presenting his report on the North East economy that the scheme was stalled in Whitehall and needed to be urgently prioritised by the Government.
However Mr Clegg last night insisted he had fought for change. He said: “I totally accept there was a period where there was far too much wrangling within the Government.
“I was incredibly frustrated at what I felt was foot-dragging by coalition partners on something that can create investment in our renewable energy industry.
“We have got past that now, we are offering long-term certainty and we will announce an industrial strategy on offshore wind in the near future.
“So I think we are over that period now where there was a protracted debate on the details.
“I’m now 99% confident we have resolved a rash of arguments which I think did lose us time, lose us momentum and we will now get back on track for the most aggressive expansion of offshore wind investment in this country and that will help the North East.”
Mr Clegg went on to praise the NEvolution campaign in the North East, in which newspapers, employers and councils have called for more decision-making powers to be handed back to the region. The deputy PM is to chair a cabinet committee to try to force through the changes called for.
He said: “I believe in devolution, but it is also driven by necessity. Whitehall is going to be cash-strapped for years to come and we have to ensure that people are set free locally to they can raise more of their own money and decide how to spend that.
“Historically it makes sense. If you think 100 years ago, the idea that our great Northern cities would, for every decision, have to go cap in hand to London, it is absurd.
“What we are doing is bringing it back to that concept, that’s why I think NEvolution is a great campaign, and why I formed this committee to bang heads together in Whitehall, on behalf of the North East, on behalf of our cities and on behalf of devolution.”