I was intrigued to read Alex Ralph account of The Times’ attempt to secure information on Government Advisors Lazards advice on the new build nuclear power programme. (“
Advisers on Hinkley Point C nuclear power station had ‘cosy’ ties to both sides,” 1 January 2018; https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/business/advisers-on-hinkley-point-c-nuclear-power-station-had-cosy-ties-to-both-sides-xftxcl9sz), especially the revelation that:
"Lazard’s 82-page tender document in 2013 ...initially was almost entirely redacted ” because “Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy ( BEIS) […] officials had redacted the information, claiming that it was commercially sensitive.”
I have had a similar frustrating experience to The Times in trying to secure Government nuclear advice via Freedom of information legislation. On 19 September 2016 I wrote to BEIS requesting “a full copy of the report commissioned by DECC [BEIS’s predecessor department) from Evercore on different ways to fund new nuclear programmes'.
BEIS responded on 19 October 2016, confirming they held the document, but refused to release it claiming it was “was exempt from disclosure” exemptions permitted for commercial confidentiality reasons, under Regulation 12(5)(e) of FOI Act 2000.
BEIS turned down my appeal following an internal departmental review in November 2016. I subsequently appealed to the Information Commissioner, to try to get her support for the release of the 166 page report.
BEIS told the Information Commissioner :
'This advice reflects years of accumulated knowledge of the Evercore team involved and its release into the public domain would prejudice Evercore's commercial and economic interests by providing a document encapsulating and reflecting that knowledge to other parties. This information could be used by Evercore's competitors at a time when both they and Evercore may be assessing whether to compete for any future Government procurement processes in relation to new nuclear investment in the UK'.
In other words, BEIS put the commercial interests of a private consultancy, Evercore, before the British public’s right to know how the financial fiasco of Hinkley Point C was allowed to come about.
To my astonishment, the Information Commissioner’s office agreed to support private commercial interests of Evercore and French Government-owned EDF Energy, (the developers of Hinkley C), before the public interest in rejecting my appeal on 21 November last year.
The situation over the cover up by BEIS over Hinkley Point is a scandal that surely merits investigation by the House of Commons Public Accounts, Environmental Audit and Business , Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committees.
I hope the respective female Labour MP chairs will organize a collective investigation when Parliament returns next week as a matter of urgency.