Mapped: Revolving Doors between UK Government and the Energy Industry

Mapped: Revolving Doors between UK Government and the Energy Industry
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After days of discussions at the climate talks in Bonn, negotiators failed to agree on a conflict of interest policy that would exclude fossil fuel companies from getting involved in the process.

The issue has been high on the agenda at the talks in Germany with campaigners arguing polluting businesses are weakening climate ambitions by lobbying government officials to protect their profits.

But rich and developed countries such as the US, Australia and Canada have repeatedly opposed “kicking out” big polluters from the climate talks process. Instead countries agreed “to further enhance the openness, transparency, inclusiveness and balance of the effective engagement of non-party stakeholders in a manner that enhances the implementation of the convention”. 

Jesse Bragg, a spokesman for NGO Corporate Accountability, told DeSmog UK this was “a small step in the right direction given the overwhelming obstruction from the global north”. He added pressures on the EU to back a proposition for a conflict of interest policy “seemed to have worked” with the union taking a backseat and “for the first time, did not actively and publicly stand in the way of such a policy”. 

But in a new report, the Greens-European Free Alliance (Greens-EFA), a political group in the European Parliament, argue the EU’s historic opposition to a strong conflict of interest policy is because of the cosy relationship between European governments and private companies with a vested interest in weak climate policies.

This is highlighted by the extent of the revolving doors between European governmental bodies, the public sector and private fossil fuel companies, the report says.

Andy Rowell, a campaigner at Oil Change International and co-author of the report, argues that the UK in particular has “an endemic revolving door problem that exists at all levels of government”, involving ministers, political advisors and senior and middle-ranking civil servants.

Based on the report’s research, DeSmog UK has mapped the connections between former government officials and the fossil fuel and other energy companies where they have taken up jobs:

Fossil Fuels

There are several examples of deep rooted ties between former government officials and the fracking industry.

Former CEO of BP Lord Browne was appointed lead non-executive director of the Cabinet Office by then Prime Minister David Cameron. At the time, Browne was also chair of fracking company Cuadrilla.

Former head of energy markets and infrastructure strategy at the then Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), Patrick Erwin first joined fracking company INEOS on secondment from his civil servant job before taking on the role of business development director full time.

The report points to Browne and Erwin’s “pivotal roles” in the formation of the burgeoning shale gas industry in the UK at a time when scientists warned most of the world’s fossil fuel reserves have to be kept in the ground in order to limit global temperature rise in line with the Paris Agreement.

In 2016, Erwin also joined the electricity supply company Northern Powergrid, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. That company’s CEO, globally renowned investor and one of the world’s richest people, Warren Buffett, has deep rooted ties with coal-fired-power-plants and the oil industry.

A spokeswoman for Northern Powergrid confirmed Erwin was recruited from his previous INEOS role to join its “regultraed business as an UK electrity distribution network operator”. 

Then there is Matt Hinde, the former head of EU strategy for DECC. In 2015, he left the civil service and took on a role as director and senior vice president for energy for the lobbying giant FleishmanHillard, which lists clients including Total, Shell, ExxonMobil, Statoil, Eni and BP.

According to the report, at least three former ministers with energy and/or climate change portfolios went on to hold key roles at energy companies.

One was former energy minister and Tory MP Charles Hendry, who took four lucrative jobs in the oil industry after being part of David Cameron’s supposed “greenest government ever”.  

However, Hendry also later became a director for Atlantic Superconnection, the company which plans to build an undersea cable from Iceland to the UK to import electricity from hydroelectric and geothermal energy sources – a deal which he signed as minister the previous year.

Renewables 

Other ministers have taken on roles in energy companies with a focus on renewables or cleaner energy sources, in contrast to those that enter the fossil fuel industry.

Lord Greg Barker was the Conservative minister for climate change between 2010 and 2014 and has been a key figures in pushing the Tories to take climate action seriously. He has since worked as an adviser for several renewable and solar energy companies, including BP-owned Lightsource Renewable.

Barker has ties to the Russian energy industry. He worked for oil company Sibneft, which was owned by Roman Abramovitch – the billionaire owner of Chelsea football club – later bought by Gazprom. Last year, he became chair of EN+, a Russian aluminium and hydropower producer controlled by billionaire Oleg Deripaska.

At the time, Barker said EN+ was “at the vanguard of green industrial innovation as it transforms its huge clean energy resources to green metal and supplies it to fast-growing international markets”. 

EN+’s listing on the London Stock Exchange prompted criticism from MI6 after the US imposed sanctions on Deripaska and his firms accusing him of being linked to organised crime and of “directly or indirectly” working for the Kremlin.

Lib Dem MP Sir Ed Davey has taken on consultancy roles following his ministerial responsibilities as the energy secretary under the coalition government. This included advisory roles at Engie UK as well as law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, lobbying firm MHP and Macquarie Bank, which list BP, EDF and leading fracking company INEOS among their clients.

However, Davey told DeSmog UK his consultancy work “focused entirely on renewables” and that he “has not worked at all for BP, EDF or INEOS”. He added having oined ENGIE UK because “they are one of the top energy companies who is changing their strategy to divest themselves of fossil fuel interests and go into renewables”, he undertook one small solar project for Macquarie Bank and worked for MHP‘s renewable clients on tidal and wave energy projects. 

Davey is also the chairman of Fit for the Future, a network of more than 80 organisations working to make their organisations climate-friendly.  Since regaining his seat in parliament last year, Davey said he had kept only three commissions amounting to less than two days work a month on renewable projects. 

Hendry, Barker and Hinde did not respond to DeSmog UK‘s request for comment in time for publication. 

A Regulator Without Teeth

The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACBA) is the independent UK regulator charged with advising ministers and civil servants on whether there is a conflict of interest risk by taking on a new job after serving the government.

But the ACBA only has an advisory role and has been previously described as “the committee which never says no”.

Report author Rowell said the ACBA was a “toothless regulator” which was “not fit for purpose” and oversaw a system “riddled with loopholes which have exacerbated the problem”.

Ministers and senior public officials need to consult the ACBA when taking on a role within two years of their previous government job. The ACBA usually recommends a short waiting period, a ban on personally lobbying the government for a period of anything from a few months up to two years and the non-disclosure of sensitive information.

The report notes it is difficult to measure the effects the revolving door phenomenon has on climate policy , and argues that more research is needed to establish what the relationship between the two may be.

It concludes that establishing the links between former government officials and the fossil fuel industry highlights “the major potential for conflict of interest”, adding: “When one takes into account what is at stake for large fossil fuel companies, and how much lobbying they conduct on climate policy more generally, weak revolving door policy provides another avenue of influence for private fossil fuel interests to exploit”.

A spokeswoman for the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments said the rules regarding business appointments after public office are set by the government’s cabinet office and apply across the civil service at all levels. 

A spokeswoman for the Cabinet Office said the government was confident the ACBA rules were fit for purpose and that the process was “the most transparent ever”. 

She said: “The government takes the issue of conflicts of interest extremely seriously. Departments carefully consider each application on the basis of the facts, and where appropriate restrictions are put in place. 

“The importance of complying fully with the Business Appointment Rules is set out in a civil servant’s terms and conditions of employment, and is legally binding.” 

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