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Government gets into bed with gas industry

Cameron and GasThere are seemingly no limits to how far this government will crawl into the pockets of the private sector to do them a favour to maximise their profits at taxpayers’ expense.

Greenpeace has just discovered via freedom of information (FOI) rules that a major state subsidy scheme for gas-fired power stations in the UK is being designed by an executive of a gas company — ESB, which owns 3 gas-fired power stations in this country. He has been seconded to work in DECC for 2 years.

He is described in another industry document as head of capacity market design at DECC, but significantly also as ‘a government representative’. The ‘capacity market’ is a subsidy scheme intended to induce the building of more gas power stations by companies, and it is extraordinarily generous to the private sector in that it will pay the Big 6 energy companies huge sums running into millions of pounds whether the plants are generating or not.

This would of course have been kept secret had it not been for Greenpeace’s FOI. One wonders how the public will react when they learn that the Big Six, already extracting egregious profits at the public’s expense by over-charging for gas and electricity, are now being handed enormous subsidies grace of the taxpayer to bribe them to invest as they ought to be doing anyway.

Privatisation has turned out to be a real scam. The energy companies have racked up dividends for shareholders and a pay bonanza for top executives, but when it comes to investing to keep the lights on, they say they can’t afford it and need government subsidies. This Tory government then doesn’t just ladle out the subsidies, it employs executives from the industry to devise a scheme as lucrative as possible for the industry.

The same happened in the water industry. Thames Water has the worst record on leakages and the biggest hand-out to the boardroom and shareholders, and then has the audacity to complain it can’t afford the big new sewer that London badly needs.

The conflict of interest in all this is breathtaking. Four other gas industry executives have been seconded to DECC in a cosy tie-up with government, 2 from Shell, and 1 each from BritishGas/Centrica (who was previously a political lobbyist for Centrica) and ConocoPhillips. When it comes to the blatant conflict of interest involved, the self-deception deployed by government departments is laughable.

DECC has formally stated that it “ensures that any secondee is bound by the professional codes of practice relevant to their industry or services provided”. But the contract signed by secondees exposes this charade: it asks them to self-police any conflicts of interest! Pull the other one. This is such an outrageous abuse of the public interest that I have written to the Parliamentary Committee on Standards in Public Life to ask them to investigate whether this scam should be stopped and those responsible held to account.

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