Lord Mandelson has set up an “energy and climate change unit” to lobby Ed Miliband’s new energy and climate change department on behalf of business. Energy insiders said the move was further evidence of the peer encroaching on Ed Miliband’s brief in a bid to water down green policies which may damage business.
According to Mandelson’s Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) website, the unit’s aim is to “help create the conditions for UK business success through key energy and climate change policies by working closely with and influencing the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), other Whitehall departments…minimising competitiveness impacts”.
DECC was set up in October to bring the energy brief under one department. Previously responsibility for energy policy was shared by the old BERR department, representing energy companies’ interests, and the Department of Environment, frequently briefing against each other. When it was set up, environmental groups and energy companies hailed the move, hoping that the new department would signal more joined-up government thinking and decisiveness over its energy policy.
But commenting on Berr’s new energy and climate change unit, one of the UK’s top six energy suppliers said: “The establishment of an energy department should have made life much simpler. But because of who the business minister [Mandelson] is, Berr is still involved at lots of different levels in the decision-making. It’s hard to say that if you’re an outsider this is anything more than a mess.”
Some civil servants working for DECC are also said to be uneasy about the new department’s role and influence within government. A memo from Moira Wallace, DECC’s permanent secretary, read out to staff recently said that DECC role was as a “campaigning department”. This description “went down like a lead balloon”, according to one civil servant present, because of fears this was a tacit admission that DECC did not have the influence to deliver policies, only to campaign for them.
Earlier this year MPs criticised DECC’s slow reply to correspondence, and Miliband admitted that some of his staff were not “adequately prepared”. Last week however, Miliband won plaudits for pushing through tough environmental restrictions on new coal plants.
A BERR spokeswoman said it was not unusual for the department to set up teams which covered issues like energy or transport which affect businesses. Berr said in a statement: “DECC is now lead on energy and climate change. All departments have a responsibility for climate change and BERR continues to retain close links with companies both as providers and users or energy, and to help business make the most of our move towards a low carbon future.”