Chancellor George Osborne’s Treasury saw more than 10 percent of its some 640 external meetings dominated by fossil fuels in the nine months leading up to March 2015, newly released documents reveal. Renewables meanwhile got just two meetings.
Treasury transparency records, published by the state, show that meetings between Treasury ministers and energy companies or energy industry bodies come in second to those dealing with finance, tax and the economy – the department’s primary focus. These make up a third of all meetings.
Of the 70 meetings to discuss energy issues, 90 percent were with oil and gas companies or industry bodies including Exxon, Chevron, Shell, EDF, Centrica, and IGas, to name a few, along with the newly established Oil and Gas Authority, and Oil & Gas UK.
When it comes to renewable energy, on the other hand, there were just two meetings recorded: one in July 2014 between Lord Paul Deighton, then commercial secretary, and MHI Vestas Offshore Wind, followed by a meeting in November between Priti Patel, then exchequer secretary, and a group of seven companies to simply discuss “energy”, among these was renewable supplier Good Energy.
Taken together, these 70 energy meetings between July 2014 and March 2015 prior to last May’s general election paint a picture of the shape that energy policy is currently taking: heavy on nuclear, oil and gas, low on renewables.
The dominance of fossil fuel meetings is in stark contrast to just four meetings held to discuss climate change and the environment over this nine-month period.
In January 2015, Osborne met with Lord Nicholas Stern and British sculptor Antony Gormley to discuss climate change. Chief secretary Danny Alexander also met with Lord Stern that same month to talk about “climate change and development”.
Also in January, Alexander met with WWF and the Aldersgate Group to discuss environmental policy.
The next month, in February 2015, Patel met with a group of nine organisations including Greenpeace, WWF, RSPB, the UK Green Building Council, Policy Exchange and EEF, the manufacturers association, to discuss “energy and environment policy”.
Nuclear got its share of attention with six meetings held with EDF, the chief developer of nuclear in the UK, over the nine-month period.
In a testament to Osborne’s commitment to nuclear power, he personally met with EDF in December 2014 to discuss “the energy industry”. It was around this time that EDF was facing financial troubles at its partner company Areva with fears that this would impact the development of Hinkley Point C power station in Somerset.
In addition, five meetings were held early this year with Japanese companies and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation about “nuclear investment”. They came after a government report published in December 2014 entitled: ‘Japan – what’s next for the nuclear industry, how can we benefit?’
Following Osborne’s meeting with EDF last December, in February he met with Oil & Gas UK, Apache, and EnQuest to discuss “oil and gas”. These three companies are all involved in the North Sea oil industry – a strong theme among the Treasury’s meetings.
In addition to many meetings with the various players in the North Sea, there were a series of meetings between the Treasury and Sir Ian Wood – the billionaire owner of industry services provider Wood Group who responsible for the idea behind the government’s policy to maximise oil and gas extraction.
The government continues to push further development of the North Sea oil and gas reserves, which are nearing the end of their life. Meanwhile, oil prices remain low and just this week oil bosses predicted another 10,000 oil jobs will be lost in the area.
Current Energy and Climate Minister Andrea Leadsom, who was working as economic secretary at the time, did not have any meetings to discuss energy or the environment under her role in the Treasury. Rather, the majority of her meetings were regarding “financial services”. In fact, these meetings make up 68 per cent of the department’s meetings related to finance, tax and the economy.
Photo: HM Treasury via Flickr