Some of my devoted readers have sent me copies of a column I published back in 2017. In it, I predicted that the official Climate Change Committee might one day find its latest board member, one Dr Rebecca Heaton, rather an embarrassment. This is because her daytime job was, and is, as head of policy for the power company, Drax. The company is one of the world’s largest producers of biomass and is very reliant upon Government subsidies. Its website makes plain that expanding such activities will require a positive ‘investment framework’ from the Government.
Throughout Dr Heaton’s involvement with the Committee, it has issued ever stronger pleas for Government support for biomass electricity. Such enthusiasm has motivated John (now Lord) Randall (who as a Conservative MP was a personal environment advisor to former PM Theresa May) to invite the National Audit Office to probe Dr Heaton’s potential conflict of interest.
“Given the significant commercial interests of her employer, Drax, in the policies on which the Committee is advising the Government, I believe there may be a real or perceived conflict between her role with Drax and her ability to offer impartial advice on such policies,” argued the noble Lord. He feared that her dual roles allowed Drax to gain, “an unfair commercial advantage through the influence its employee may be having upon the advice and formulation of policy in an area in which Drax operates.”
Precisely the complaint that I warned four years ago would end up being enunciated. Although I must admit I didn’t forecast that the fuss would be stimulated by such a Very Important Person.