Energy in the spotlight ahead of Chancellor’s statement

News editor

Tax breaks for shale gas exploration and the announcement of new infrastructure projects are expected this Wednesday when the chancellor George Osborne announces his Autumn Statement.

A report in yesterday’s Sunday Times suggests that the UK could be on the verge of a new ‘dash for gas’, with plans to build 20 new power stations and a commitment to bolster the UK’s burgeoning shale industry, which is currently subject to a moratorium.

In October of this year Osborne reiterated his support for gas, saying that it still has an important role in the country’s energy mix, adding that government would engage with industry to develop a targeted tax regime for the shale gas industry.

One estimate quoted in the Sunday Times puts the UK’s shale reserves at 16 trillion cubic feet and today’s Independent reports on the possibility that over 60 per cent of the British countryside could be exploited for shale gas.

Coincidentally, IMechE tomorrow hosts Huw Clarke, senior geoscientist and Dr Peter Turner, exploration consultant and founder member, Cuadrilla Resources, who are to deliver a lecture on shale exploration.

According to IMechE, they’ll look at a range of issues, including minimalising risks, the tax benefits to the Exchequer and the creation of new jobs, a subject discussed by the institution in September and covered by The Engineer here.

So-called ‘shovel ready’ infrastructure projects are also expected to be announced this Wednesday. The schemes, benefiting from a total funding pot of £40bn to underwrite projects struggling to raise finance, will be ready to start in 12 months. Over 200 delegates and 47 speakers are expected to assemble at the Institution of Civil Engineers on Wednesday and Thursday this week to discuss the outcome of the Autumn Statement, along with updates to the National Infrastructure Plan.

EEF today appealed for a ‘concerted, joined up, cross- government growth plan’  ahead of Osborne’s speech.

The call came with EEF’s announcement today that conditions are deteriorating for many of its members, some of whom have seen export sales turn negative for the first time since the end of the 2008/9 recession.

In a statement, Terry Scuoler, EEF chief executive said, ‘We’ve seen growth ebb away during the course of the year and many manufacturers are steeling themselves for a continuation of tough trading conditions in the next few quarters.

‘The extent to which industry confidence has fallen since this year’s Budget makes it ever more urgent for the government to get to grips with growth and get behind companies seeking to invest and succeed in new export markets.’

More sobering statistics have been published by EngineeringUK, highlighting the need to double the number of annual recruits required to fill engineering positions to 2020.

They say engineering companies are projected to have 2.74 million job openings from 2010 – 2020, of which 1.86 million will need engineering skills.

From this figure, approximately 87,000 per year will require candidates with degree qualifications, which raises the spectre of a skills shortage as the UK produces 46,000 engineering graduates each year.

EngineeringUK add that there will also be demand for around 69,000 people qualified at advanced apprenticeship or equivalent level each year, yet only around 27,000 UK apprentices a year currently qualify at the appropriate level. Expect more on this in The Engineer’s news section later today.

One sector likely to be hiring engineers old and new is nuclear and this Thursday’s Energy Choices event will look at the benefits that nuclear brings to the UK economy.

The organizers say this year’s conference will explore the nuclear industry as an Engine for Growth, considering the impact and economic footprint of the decommissioning sector, existing plants and new nuclear going in to the future.