lobbying for biomass

If I want to meet a Government Minister to explain a proposal or to influence some item of policy, I write a letter. I rely on the Minister’s civil servants to read the letter, assess its importance compared with the Minister’s overall tasks and job requirements and then to compose a reply which in accordance with the ministerial objective either grants me access or not.

I do understand that Ministers are bombarded with requests for access. They cannot see everyone and there has to be some objective system of granting access to those that want to explain or ask for a policy or a change of policy. It seems to me that Ministers have no confidence in their own civil servants to make the appropriate judgements. The proof lies in the existence of paid lobbyists.

There are firms that you can pay money and once they have the money they will lobby Ministers and usually arrange a meeting with the Minister or Civil Servant in charge of what you want to do. On the one hand they have the expertise to get your point across to the right person in Government – something that Government itself seems to lack. On the other hand, it somehow does not seem right.

If Ministers had confidence in their civil servants to organise priorities correctly there would be no reason for any lobbyist firm. The Minister would be content, as would the senior civil servants, to rely on the judgement of their staff when it comes to arranging meetings with vested interests.

This is clearly not the case. They perhaps think their staffs are (despite their high salaries and high level of education) incapable as gate keepers and prefer to rely on the judgement of paid lobbyists as to whom they should meet. Sometimes the lobbyist has access to the staff, which in turn leads to ministerial access. Either way it seems a remarkable state of affairs.

My thoughts about lobbying arise from hearing about a biomass power station. Regular readers will know of my concern about biomass power stations. I set them out in my post of 22nd November 2007, and that has been one of the most popular topic in these blogs.

There is a power station fuelled by biomass planned at Port Talbot, in South Wales. One is proposed near Bristol, obviously to have easy access to imported wood chippings and its planners, e.on are describing it as either carbon free or carbon saving. So far all the biomass power stations planned are on the coast near a good port.

On the banks of the Humber, where Andrew Marvel lay complaining of his coy mistress a company called Helius Energy wanted to build a biomass power station. The Sunday Times a couple of week ago in a well written article by Marie Woolf and Jon Ungoed-Thomas described this proposed power station as a “green” one. Of course it is not a green power station and will emit more carbon than a gas power station of the same size and nearly as much as a coal burning one. Never mind, eventually reporters will figure this out.

Now it seems that Helius Energy wanted to explain to the government the virtues of a biomass power station. They may have written a letter but knowing that Ministers do not value the judgement of their civil servants but value more the judgement of a paid lobbyist, hire a lobbyist called Sovereign Strategy.

Companies do not dish out money without reason and Sovereign Strategy’s Alan Donnelly is according to the Sunday Times an incredibly effective lobbyist with a direct route to Government. Like the Savoy Hotel the doors of the Government are open to everyone, provided that you can pay the bill.

Sovereign helped Helius for a fee and Helius ended up getting a favourable planning decision for their biomass power station on the Humber. Remarkably “Sir” Bob Geldoff joined Helius as a special advisor. There were lots of advisors it would seem but I wonder who has advised the local authority and the Government on the side effects of wood smoke? Who has advised on whether the measures to curb the wood smoke will be really effective? What has the lobbyist said about this issue?

Maybe we need lobbyists; I am not sure that they are a necessary part of the political process in their present form.

In the ways of the world it is not remarkable that Helius hired Sovereign run by Mr Donnelly. It is even not remarkable that Helius donated £4,000 to Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s constituency party coffers to pay for a diner. All of that is quite acceptable, even if it is something that i would not have done.

I do have difficulty, however, in understanding why Mr Donnelly, head of Sovereign, is also chairman of Mr Miliband’s local constituency party, according to the Sunday Times. I am sure that the arrangement is not illegal, but is it right and proper for a lobbyist also to be a political activist involved in the party that runs the country?

One Response

  1. how did u feel when you bump into this thing?

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