Scottish engineers dismayed at UK government’s 'flip-flop approach' to climate change

Scottish engineering firms are becoming increasingly frustrated with the UK government’s “flip-flopping approach” to climate change as the sector ends the year on a flat note north of the Border.

Releasing its final quarterly review of 2023, industry organisation Scottish Engineering noted that the ratio of companies that see an opportunity to address climate change has switched, falling by a couple of percentage points. Meanwhile, the number of companies pursuing operational or product/service design changes to support a reduced climate impact has fallen by 7 per cent and 5 per cent respectively.

The final quarter scorecard shows an overall flat position compared to the industry body’s September review. Export orders turned positive in the fourth quarter. UK orders showed a very mild improvement but remained in negative territory, and output volume held steady give or take a single percentage point.

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Scottish Engineering chief executive Paul Sheerin said: “For almost four years now, we have been asking members for their outlook on whether they see threat or opportunity from climate change, and in that time, we have seen an increase of 11 per cent who see opportunity for their business, with that shift matched almost exactly by a reduction in those who see it as a threat. However, in just 12 months, the ratio of companies who see an opportunity from addressing climate change has changed direction.

Scottish Engineering chief executive Paul Sheerin. Picture: Guy HinksScottish Engineering chief executive Paul Sheerin. Picture: Guy Hinks
Scottish Engineering chief executive Paul Sheerin. Picture: Guy Hinks

“It’s hard not to draw a parallel between our own UK government’s flip-flopping approach to climate actions in the last year, and the resulting dip in commitment from our engineering sector trying to chart their own course to survive and thrive in uncertain times.”

He added: “As an example, the removal of confidence in investment caused by the Contract for Difference (CfD) round that was predicted to strike out even before its launch is the opposite of what industry needs to get behind and make the most of what remains a massive opportunity. Changes to planned timing for phase outs for gas boilers and internal combustion engine vehicles add to the lack of conviction that today’s commitments will be tomorrow’s plan.

“For a government that says it wants the economy to grow its way out of the current cost of living crisis, for our sector, these inconsistencies, and the loss of confidence they bring, feels like an unhelpful way to help us contribute to that aim.”

Last quarter, Scottish Engineering asked whether rising interest rates had brought a lasting negative impact or just a temporary dip. Sheerin said conversations with members since had “definitely erred towards the side of caution”, adding that in reviewing the year-end position the one word that kept jumping out was “flat”.

He added: “Future forecasts and optimism are just about positive, but have dropped since last quarter, and this all contributes to an outlook for 2024 that feels like we are in somewhat of a holding pattern overall, and cautiously watching to see which way the new year will steer us. Companies aligned to construction have seen orders softening with most feeling an impact or are predicting that fall when current backlogs are fulfilled, and as a result fabricators and metal products carry the lowest levels of optimism for the next three months.”



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