It’s fair to say that as a Member of Parliament I’ve witnessed some eventful times, and also had the privilege to meet many extraordinary people. Yet, perhaps no event compares to the war that we are seeing in Ukraine, and no leader’s onerous undertakings compare to the existential burden now heaped upon the shoulders of Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy. Amidst the great achievement of simply getting him to Westminster secretly, securely, and safely, it was incredibly special when last week he addressed the gathered throng of MPs and Peers in our ancient Westminster Hall, itself a survivor of fire and World War II bombing.
It was a particular memory that I will long cherish that on his way out of the hall Mr Zelenskyy reached over and shook my hand, saying to myself and the other colleagues heartily clapping him off the stage around me, ‘thank you very much’, in his thick Ukrainian accent. In the flesh he looks like a Hollywood star – strong and stocky, dressed in khaki fatigues, and the epitome of political charisma under extreme pressure.
Yet his mission is not the stuff of blockbuster fiction, but stark reality. He is literally battling for the survival of his nation, against despotic oppression from a mafia style Government of the worst kind. We must and will continue to support him all the way.
Of course, the primary way that we will continue to support Ukraine is through military assistance, combined with humanitarian funding. We have been training the Ukrainian army since 2015, and have provided armaments that have made a massive difference on the battlefield. Domestically, many people in South Suffolk have taken Ukrainians into their homes. It remains commonplace to see their nation’s national flag of a blue sky over a yellow wheatfield fluttering from public buildings and private homes.
Yet we must also respond through domestic policy, not least taking those steps – in line with our allies – to wean ourselves as far as possible off energy supplies that give succour to Putin, directly or otherwise. And so, it was a great pleasure for me to visit South Wales last Thursday, in my capacity as a Treasury Minister, to hear about the potential for developing Floating Offshore Wind in the Celtic Sea.
For all the distance between Milford Haven and our part of the world, we share a proximity to a renewable energy revolution – though ours is more advanced, helping to ensure that last year 27% of our electricity came from wind, in a total figure of 40% renewables, and just 1.5% from coal. Yet, there is one big difference. Our seas are shallow, so the windmills are fixed to the ground. In the Celtic Sea, the windmills will need to float, tethered to the seabed but otherwise bobbing away.
This additional feature – the massive anchor that holds the floating windmill in place – adds significant technical challenge. However, we are already deploying the technology in practice with two of the world’s three floating offshore wind farms being located off UK shores. At Pembrokeshire College, in my maternal hometown of Haverfordwest, I met with representatives of the Crown Estate – who are responsible for leasing our marine resource to energy investors – and also a start-up that was preparing a pilot farm in the Celtic Sea.
I actually had a trip to the top of a wind turbine, and the floating ones are enormous. This was via virtual reality but still felt rather giddy, and I don’t envy those who will have the job of maintaining these giant structures. But first they have to be built, and we need to take advantage of this exciting opportunity not just to produce clean, green, domestic energy but also, as far as possible, to ensure the necessary kit is made here.
Yet, whatever the opportunity, we will not take advantage of them if firms struggle recruiting staff to fulfil their order books. So, returning to the home front, that’s why on Friday I’ll be holding my second jobs fair, at Hadleigh High School. This follows my successful such event held in the Stevenson Centre, Great Cornard, last April.
In attendance will be GCB Cocoa, who only recently confirmed to me the exciting news that this easter they will start making chocolate at their Glemsford plant, underlying the good economic story on our doorstep. They will be joined by 50 other stands – from local colleges and manufacturing firms; to care providers, Amazon and Ipswich Town FC; to the Army, Police and NHS. It’s free entry; doors open 10am Friday.
Published in the Suffolk Free Press.