Last Friday I wrote to the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee about Lord Deben's interests in Veolia. I received an acknowledgement from the committee noting that my email had been circulated to committee members. My email was as follows:
I want to bring to your attention some information regarding your recent hearing with Lord Deben.
Lord Deben spoke at some length about his interests in a water company (my transcript):
“I looked at the water company...I'm chairman of a water company...all the water company does is to, for example, its major job is putting in meters for other water companies. It doesn't own any water companies any longer - it's sold those. If you look to see what it does, it really has no connection at all, and if I thought it did or even had a remote one I would make that change. I think this is too important a job to jeopardise in that way, but I can assure you I've been through that very carefully.”
Unfortunately little of this is true. The company in question is Veolia. Lord Deben’s chairmanship is noted at their website.
Contrary to Lord Deben’s representations, the company has many interests in businesses that could direct from Lord Deben’s work on the CCC. For example, see this excerpt from the company’s website:
We provide large electrical grid connections for renewable energy producers including waste, wind, and Anaerobic Digestion.
- Electricity grid connections to major and renewable projects.
- High voltage projects up to 132kV.
- Complex technical solutions.
- Primary substations.
- Long off site routes.
- Private electrical balance of plant.
A further example is on this page:
- Multi-utility scheme design and planning
- Design and installation of gas, water and electricity mains and services
- Site investigations and evaluations
- Substation design and construction
- Network construction for gas, electric, water and telecoms
- Project management
- Construction programming and asset adoption expertise
- Localised energy using renewable energy sources and Combined Heat and Power (CHP)
In addition, while Lord Deben suggests that the company’s involvement in water metering does not represent a conflict with the work of the CCC, in fact the CCC has been actively promoting the use of water meters, as these pages on their website demonstrate:
“Based on the application of the assessment toolkit in the ASC's third report, the ASC advises that the Government and water companies should take further steps to increase efficiency in water use, including through water metering and pricing. Increased uptake of meters will be particularly important in locations with current and future risks of supply-demand deficits.”[Link]
“We must take adaptation more seriously if we are to manage the growing risks of floods and droughts. This can be done by investing more in flood defences, faster roll-out of water meters and giving serious consideration to where and how we build our housing and infrastructure. Without action by households and businesses to prepare for these inevitable weather extremes the country faces rising costs, unnecessary damage and future disruption.”[Link]
I conclude from this that Lord Deben retains a significant interest that would conflict with his appointment to the CCC. Moreover, it would appear to me that he has misled the committee about Veolia’s work. I think it will be necessary for you to seek an explanation from Lord Deben as to how it was that this happened. I believe you should also seek an explanation from the permanent secretary at DECC as to how it was that Lord Deben’s interest in Veolia was given the all clear.
Since this is a matter of urgent public interest, I will publish any reply the committee gives.
The committee will this morning announce that it is recommending that Lord Deben take up the post. The official notice is embargoed until midnight and I will post a link in the morning. But this is the bit where they mention his conflicts of interest:
In our questioning we sought reassurance about a possible perceived conflict between Lord Deben’s personal financial interests and his prospective role as Chair of the Committee on Climate Change. We note that potential conflicts were assessed according to the 2009 guidelines from the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. Lord Deben informed us that he had discussed these with the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Cabinet Office, and would be taking appropriate steps to ensure that any conflicts were removed. We accepted Lord Deben’s reassurances, in correspondence with us and during the hearing, that he will relinquish all relevant financial interests on taking up his appointment. We were further reassured that his political affiliation would not affect the independence of the Committee’s work.
There is some interesting change of tense going on here. Deben led the committee to believe that he had disposed of all his conflicting interests and that DECC had given him the all clear. The report, however, appears to suggest that these disposals will take place in the future.
What this appears to suggest is that the committee knows that they have been misled by Lord Deben but, being under the control of Tim Yeo, who wallows even lower in the trough, they feel obliged to give him a nod and a wink just so long as he disposes of Veolia too.
I don't think there's a more charitable interpretation of what the committee has done is there?