Howard Forster, Chief Operations Officer, Cadent
The recent publication of the Government’s long-awaited Levelling Up White Paper
has, rightly, generated significant interest across the political spectrum and in the media. Ever since the last General Election, where the Conservative Party was elected on what seemed like a dual pledge to ‘Get Brexit Done’ and then ‘Level Up’ the United Kingdom, I have increasingly wondered what Levelling Up will really mean. It is certainly an issue close to my heart – having grown up in a relatively deprived part of the north, I have seen first-hand the impacts of regional inequality on every part of people’s lives.
From reduced life expectancy to poorer educational outcomes and diminished earning potential, statistically where you are born does play a significant role in determining what sort of life you will live. The White Paper’s recognition of the role of place, and focus on practical solutions like improved digital connectivity, better transport links and eliminating the social evils of illiteracy and innumeracy is something I wholeheartedly welcome, and what I hope will come to represent the starting gun being fired on finally addressing the structural challenges many of our villages, towns and cities face.
In late 2021, when asked to define Levelling Up, the Cabinet Minister responsible - Michael Gove - suggested the following:
“Making opportunity more equal across the country”
I think this is a very important definition, because it touches on something especially close to my heart – that levelling up must ultimately be about enhancing opportunity. And I believe this is something Cadent, and the wider gas industry, is perfectly placed to play a major role in.
Our industry, along with some others, already delivers opportunities to some of the poorest and most deprived parts of the United Kingdom. Cadent employs about 6,000 staff, the vast majority of which are highly skilled engineers.
For example in South Yorkshire, one area identified by many as a levelling up priority, we provide work to over 250 skilled engineers and support staff – each one of which has the opportunity to progress and grow their careers.
I, and many colleagues, have benefited from the opportunities for growth and success that we all already enjoy. I think levelling up will be a success if, as Michael Gove suggests, it becomes about creating more of these opportunities across more parts of our country.
That is where private enterprises like Cadent can lead. We are working, as part of our ambition to support the move towards Net Zero, to bring new skills, and with them, new opportunities, to every corner of our networks. Our ten point plan to support the hydrogen transition – which you can find at www.cadentgas.com/tenpointplan – very deliberately focusses on skills.
As part of that plan, we will by 2024 to open a hydrogen skills academy, preparing the engineers of the future. And we have committed to, by the same year, developing a hydrogen education programme.
For me, those actions tie in exactly with what Michael Gove meant when he spoke about making opportunity more equal across the country.
We will be getting out there and creating opportunities for many thousands of young people and those who want to re-train, opportunities in every part of the UK in which Cadent operates to become an engineer in a new and exciting field.
That is something I’m very proud of, and I am pleased it is an ambition which accords with what the Government talks about in the White Paper.
Ultimately then, my message is a simple one. The gas industry is already playing a significant role in bringing opportunities to every corner of the United Kingdom – yet if the industry was supported to facilitate a wholesale conversion of the gas networks to hydrogen, we could do so much more.
With the Government’s ambition and our expertise, together we truly can level up our country.