Why We’ve Banned The Term “Local Supply Chain”

As developers stake out their claim for gigawatts of Floating Offshore Wind (FLOW) in the Celtic Sea we increasingly hear the term “local supply chain”. Used by almost everyone within the industry and yet, after much discussion here in the Celtic Sea Power office, we struggled to pin-point the positive meaning of the phrase. So, we banned it. Instead, we prefer the terms #SustainableRegionalIndustry and #IndustrialEcoSystem. Here’s why…

Our remit here at Celtic Sea Power, working in lock-step with the #CelticSeaCluster, is to ensure that our region maximises the benefit of FLOW. We are determined to realise long-term social and economic benefits. Our vision is for a regionally anchored sustainable industrial ecosystem that is realistic, pragmatic and deliverable. With this, significant value will be added to the UK Celtic Sea region, the FLOW industry and the wider UK.

Achieving this will require a collaborative and open approach that draws upon the best practice of elsewhere. And, crucially, it will need to be pro-active. FLOW has burst on to the scene at a pace so rapid that the UK Celtic Sea was not even included in the “Offshore Wind Sector Deal” of March 2019. Yet this region is now working toward an ambition set by the Crown Estate of 4GW by 2035. Learning lessons from other UK regions striving to the Sector Deal’s ambition of 60% target for local content it is clear that our region will have to be bold in its approach. Daily discussions revolve around the attributes we have: Heavy industry in Wales, marine operations expertise in Cornwall, advanced engineering in Bristol and the South West and deep maritime heritage in ports throughout. There is no shortage of capability – but no illusions of the need to adapt and scale if we are to be a keystone of the UK’s transition to energy independence. The region can add huge value to the UK PLC’s once-in-a-generation opportunity to lead the world in the industrialisation of this low carbon business – but we must be bold, disruptive, ambitious and collaborative.

So, with such big challenges, why be so troubled by the words “local supply chain”? It may be merely a phrase but it strikes us as being loaded with a pervading assumption that the region’s talent and capability will have to react to the demands of individual developers. Based on our coffee break rambling, we mused that:

“Local” suggests naive provincialism. Local businesses are far from oblivious to the coming FLOW opportunities – but they need more clarity on what the client will require. Major ports and infrastructure operators in the region cannot be expected to invest and prepare at such scale without a clear pipeline of work. FLOW promises much, no doubt, but major investment decisions tend to be based on existing client with purchase orders before individual developers hoping for a lease. “Supply” simply begs the question; what is the demand? Early project developers have a role here. In a position to contribute so much to the bigger picture if they could just open up a little on the details of their supply chain plans. Concerns around “competitive advantage” ahead of lease applications need to be overcome but the region would benefit enormously if so – as would, perhaps, more forward-looking developers. Which leaves “Chain”. It’s not a chain of course, it’s a network. A complex ecosystem where a customer may also be a client; and a competitor one moment could be a collaborator the next. A big energy major does not sit at the top of a pyramid we, the consumers, do. And we make up the region.

The term “local supply chain” is just too… passive. The language we use now will not be to blame of course but the underlying attitude could be our undoing. If Cornwall, South Wales and the South West wait for a nod (from whom exactly?), the socio-economic opportunity of a generation will go begging. Along with our ability to meet Climate Change and Energy Security targets. Let us be clear-eyed of the possibility that manufacturers in the far east, assemblers and marine operators in Europe could step into the breach. Notwithstanding the very real possibility of enormous capacity bottlenecks forming due to hugely increased global demand from energy transition.

The golden opportunity here is for the rich breadth of UK Celtic Sea companies to drive FLOW development in, and for, the region. Many challenges must be overcome to achieve that but, in world led by hashtags, we say drop the passive “Local Supply Chain” and instead lead the way with #SustainableRegionalIndustry or #IndustrialEcoSystem

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