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by Margaret Taylor
12 February 2024
Exclusive: Five just transition advisory groups left with no ministerial input as energy plan enters final stages

Neil Gray led one of the five groups before being moved from energy to health | Alamy

Exclusive: Five just transition advisory groups left with no ministerial input as energy plan enters final stages

All five of the leadership groups that underpin the government’s just transition strategy have been left without ministerial input after Neil Gray was moved from energy to health during last week’s cabinet reshuffle.

The Scottish Energy Advisory Board, which is co-chaired by First Minister Humza Yousaf and University of Strathclyde principal Professor Sir Jim Macdonald, is supported by leadership groups covering energy consumers; renewable energy; oil, gas and energy transition; energy networks; and offshore wind.

Their aim is to provide key industry insights that inform policies such as the government’s Draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan. That strategy will require the public and private sectors to work together to transform the energy mix by 2030 on the way to hitting the Scottish Government’s legally binding target of achieving net zero by 2045.

However, the web page of the Energy Consumers Commission says it is “no longer active” while the remaining four advisory groups – one of which was co-chaired by Gray until last week – do not have any ministerial input. All five groups should be co-chaired by a minister and an industry representative.

Imes Group chairman Melfort Campbell, who is the industry chair of the Oil and Gas and Energy Transition Group, said the lack of political leadership is particularly problematic as the government is moving towards finalising the Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan, which was supposed to have been delivered in spring 2022, by the summer.

“The narrowness of the government’s engagement with business has always been of real concern to me,” he said. “The breadth of the government’s understanding is limited by the narrowness of the people they are talking to.”

Campbell’s group was formerly co-chaired by Richard Lochhead in his previous role as minister for just transition, but it has been without a minister since Lochhead was moved to the small business portfolio when Yousaf replaced Nicola Sturgeon as first minister last March.

Similarly, the Renewable Energy Strategic Leadership Group was co-led by Michael Matheson before he was moved from net zero to health as part of the same change in government. The Energy Networks Strategic Leadership Group, which was previously co-chaired by Paul Wheelhouse when he was minister for energy, connectivity and the islands, has been without a minister since that role disappeared after the 2021 Holyrood election.

Though Gray replaced former business secretary Ivan McKee as co-chair of the Scottish Offshore Wind Energy Council Working Group after being named energy secretary last March, his move to health has left that position vacant.

Matheson’s resignation last week over a scandal involving the misuse of a parliamentary iPad triggered the latest cabinet reshuffle. Mairi McAllan has taken over the economy and energy brief from Gray, combining it with her existing remit for net zero, while Gillian Martin has taken over just transition from McAllan. It is not clear whether either will replace Gray in the offshore wind working group role or whether they will be assigned to any of the other groups. The Scottish Government has been asked for comment.

Meanwhile, the top-level board chaired by Yousaf and McDonald, which is made up of figures from organisations including Scottish Gas Networks, Scottish Power, Forth Ports and Dunelm Energy, as well as representatives from Scotland’s regional enterprise agencies, has only met once since the change in government last March despite having a commitment to meet on a quarterly basis.

That meeting took place in December 2023, eight months after the delayed consultation on the Draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan closed.

A government spokesperson said work is ongoing to “review the subgroups of the board” and that “details will be announced in due course”.

“The Scottish Energy Advisory Board was established in 2009 to provide a forum for strategic discussion on the current and future energy challenges and opportunities for Scotland,” the spokesperson said.

“It continues to be a vital platform to help the Scottish Government, our economic agencies and industry work together to plan and deliver a just energy transition as part of our journey to net zero.”

McDonald said it is vital that is done quickly because the government has pledged that 50 per cent of the energy used for Scotland’s heat, transport and electricity will come from renewable sources by 2030. The industry that will invest in and drive that change needs certainty over what the government’s plan is and what role individual organisations will be expected to play.

“We had a bit of a delay through 2023,” McDonald said. “There was a lot going on that was taking up the time of ministers, not least the transfer from one first minister to another, but the first minister came to the last energy advisory board meeting in December and has made a commitment to quarterly meetings.

“I’m confident they [the government] realise the urgency with which we need to move to implementation [of the just transition plan].

“2030 is an absolute beacon that we must move towards. We will have to have really moved the dial by then to feel confident about 2045.

“2045 seems like a long way away, 2030 – I can touch it. We should really be concentrating on what we can achieve in the next six years.”

It comes after the Auditor General for Scotland, Stephen Boyle, last week issued a scathing report that found the government’s plans for implementing its National Strategy for Economic Transformation, which is expected to dovetail with the Energy and Just Transition Plan, “lacks political leadership”.

When it published the economic strategy in March 2022 the government said it would establish an Economic Leadership Group, chaired by the first minister, to oversee the strategy but that group has yet to be set up.

Boyle said that without the group being in place it is “not clear how evidence about what is successfully transforming Scotland’s economy will flow to the relevant decision-makers”.

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