David Rose has a short article on my report for Roger Helmer MEP on the size of the UK’s green economy.
But documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal the true value of the green economy is actually between only £16.8 billion and £27.9 billion, depending on exactly how the term ‘green economy’ is defined. In other words, the official figures exaggerate the scale of the sector by up to 700 per cent.
Rose’s article is published just under James Delingpole’ article — which is also worth a read.
I’ve always thought that the government’s (current and previous) claims about the green economy were highly dubious. But they (or their staff at DECC/BIS, etc), have been very unhelpful. Last October, I asked them again for data relating to their estimates of the ‘Low Carbon and Environmental Goods and Services’ (LCEGS) market, after it had been claimed, yet again, that it was now worth £122 bn year. They refused, as they have done before, on the basis that the research is undertaken by a private company — Innovas, in the earlier reports, and K-Matrix more recently.
This is a defacto paywall protecting the government and its policies against anyone who wants to understand the basis of their decisions, but who is not sympathetic to them. It’s also a way of hiding dodgy dossiers and sexed up statistics. Indeed, BIS claimed in their responses to me that they had bought ‘off the self’ research from the companies.
But further inspection of earlier LECGS reports revealed that BERR/BIS had commissioned Innovas/K-Matrix, and had in fact worked with the company to develop the specification of the sector. So in fact, BIS had been lying. On this basis, I appealed against the two refused FOI requests, and an internal review found in my favour.
A scan through the LCEGS taxonomy — the list of markets included in the LCEGS sector — reveals that the government has been playing fast-and-loose with categories. It includes the production and distribution of a number of fossil fuels. It includes thing as daft as rubber-band powered cars. It counts activities that are actively polluting as ‘environmental services’.
The taxonomy given to me by BIS is here [MS Excel format] .
A draft copy of my report is here [PDF].
There are a few typos in the draft, but I’m not near a computer to fix them now. On page 15, for example, I write,
If the sales of methane, wood, wood gas, vegetable oil, biomass and peanut oil are as substantial as the LCEGS report claims, this would be remarkable. In energy terms, it is equivalent to nearly half of the UK’s energy consumption. Thus further investigation is required.
It should say
If the sales of methane, wood, wood gas, vegetable oil, biomass and peanut oil are as substantial as the LCEGS report claims, this would be remarkable. In market terms, it is equivalent to nearly half of the UK’s spend on electricity. Thus further investigation is required.
The government’s official estimate of £120 billion is, as the report explains, completely implausible. I find a figure of around £27 billion much more likely, but it may be as low as £17bn, after we exclude the emissions-trading sector, and take out the money for green taxes and subsidies to green projects.
Of the remaining market, one question I don’t ask is how much good it does, even on its own terms. If you were going to spend £16 bn a year on making a greener economy, why not just spend it on nuclear power?
UPDATE: my FOI Internal Review request. (More to follow)
Security & Information Rights (SIR) Department for Business,Innovation& Skills
APPENDIX A – Ben Pile – BIS communications Correspondence in relation to Innovas/Kmatrix LCEGS reports
APPENDIX B – passages from BIS/BERR and Innovas/Kmatrix LCEGS reports
APPENDIX C – BIS Response 1
APPENDIX D – BIS response 2
I am writing to request an internal review of the decision not to release data that forms the basis of the ‘Low Carbon and Environmental Goods and Services’ (LCEGS) reports, published by BIS (and formerly by BERR), and produced by Innovas/K-Matrix.
The LCEGS reports estimate the size of the LCEGS sector and are produced annually. To my understanding, this involved the creation of a database consisting of two main parts: i) a hierarchy of market sectors at five different levels of detail (i.e. column headings) ; and ii) data relating to market size, and employment etc, for each sector (i.e. data).
As the correspondence I have attached explains, my concern is that the data in question has been used to inform policymaking and the promotion of certain policy options in the public debate, but that the public have been denied the benefit of knowing what the LCEGS sector consists of. The published LCEGS reports contain only the top two levels of the database in categories so broad they may well encompass almost the entire productive economy rather than, as is implied, simply the ‘green economy’. The use of these reports to inform policy decisions or to make arguments in favour of certain policy options therefore creates opacity where there should be transparency.
This is a criticism I have raised with the department, and with the author of the first LCEGS report, John Sharp, shortly after it was published in 2009. However, the department continue to publish these reports in the same way.
In November last year I made a request for information about the database itself, and about the circumstances of the database’s creation. In particular, I wanted to see the column headings for each level of detail 1 through 4, though I would like now to see the same for levels 1 through 5. I also made a request for the estimates of each market sector.
My requests for the information under the FOI act were refused. However, there is a lack of consistency in the arguments offered by BIS, which furthermore do not tally with existing information, published by BIS itself. There are also some questions about the relationship between the department and Innovas/K-Matrix which are not properly answered. In spite of my requests, is still not clear whether Innovas/K-Matrix were either commissioned to produce research or simply sold an existing product to the department, off-the-shelf.
In email Appendix A.1, on 14 November (prior to the FOI request), Matthew Barker informed me that “The Low Carbon Environmental Goods & Services (LCEGS) report was commissioned by BIS”, but that the “agreement with k-matrix does not extend to releasing the unpublished data sets”.
In view of this, I asked (email Appendix A.2) for clarity on the agreement between BIS/BERR and Innovas/K-Matrix. Specifically, I asked what in the agreement prevented the release of the data. I was also puzzled about why the department would enter into such an agreement.
I received a reply on 11 December (Appendix C), which reiterated Matthew Brown’s earlier comment, and that the data “is exempt from disclosure under section 43 (2) commercial interests and should be withheld” (Appendix C, section 3) , on the basis that it “would be likely to prejudice the commercial interests of any person” (Appendix C, section 4).
The response also pointed out that the data I had requested “is not ‘publicly funded research'” (Appendix C, section 5) and that “the company created the dataset to fill an information gap in the market”, that BIS had paid “a commercial rate to use the data” as do “multiple users from [other] sectors” .
The response went on to outline a “public interest test” (Appendix C, sections 6 through 11), the logic or meaning of which is opaque, at best only re-iterating the protection of third party commercial interests.
Seeking clarity on this new decision, I submitted a further request for information (email Appendix A.9). In particular, I explained my view that the public interest test seemed arbitrary, and that a stronger argument in favour of transparency could be made (email Appendix A.2.2). I also asked how the department knew that Innovas/K-Matrix did not want the data I had requested to be made available, amongst other questions.
I received a reply on 1 Feb (Appendix D). According to this reply, the department had contacted K-Matrix in relation to my request (Appendix D, Section 3), but that this was a courtesy and that the decision ultimately lay with the department. K-Matrix were themselves unwilling to allow me to see the information, as was revealed by the email correspondence between them and the department (Appendix E).
The response also re-iterated the department’s view that “the public interest in favour of withholding this information outweighed the public interest in its disclosure”, (Appendix D, section 3), but without explaining the process by which the public interest was weighed against any competing interest.
However, literature published by Innovas and the department jointly challenges the advice given by the department following my enquiries.
For instance, in the first edition of the report, authored by John Sharp of Innovas, the introduction states that “The authors worked solely on BERR’s instructions and for BERR purposes” (Appendix B, 1.i)”. (My emphasis). The same report goes on to explain that BERR were involved in designing the specification of the database: “This hierarchy of sector‐specific markets and activities is built up from the product market level, and then aggregated into higher level activities agreed in consultation with BERR.” (Appendix B, 1.ii). This database had been intended “To provide BERR with the detail it requires for policy and strategy development” (Appendix B, 1.iii).
Furthermore, the BIS website advises that “BIS (then BERR) commissioned Innovas/K-matrix to undertake a market assessment of the size of the UK low carbon and environmental goods and services (LCEGS) sector in 2008”. (Appendix B, 2.i).
By definition, the advice that BIS/BERR commissioned Innovas/K-Matrix to undertake research and were consulted in the design of the research contradicts the advice that the department purchased an existing off-the-shelf product from the company/companies. For example, the advice in Appendix D, section 11, argues that “…regardless of the supplier of the database the Department would merely be a licensee of the intellectual property subsisting in the database and would be subject to the requirements of the FOI Act. If the Department were to pay for the data to be publicly available the costs would be significantly higher”.
The claim that the department purchased a licence to existing intellectual property seems to be untenable. The LCEGS reports, authored by the company themselves speak about the work being commissioned by the department, and designed according to its specification. Either the information in the report or the arguments offered by the department to explain its refusal to let me see the data are false.
Moreover, it would seem that while the department intended to make data available to business and non-profit organisations, critics of government policy or anyone simply wanting to understand the department’s “policy and strategy development” would be denied the opportunity, creating a problem for the department’s claim to be ‘set[ting] data free’. “The publication of the data is part of the coalition’s commitment to set data free by publishing it in a convenient format to enable business and non-profit organisations to use it easily and at minimal cost” (Appendix D, 2.i). Evidently, the intention was to put data into the public domain that would enable the promotion of certain policies, but not data that might reveal what was in fact meant by the term ‘Low Carbon and Environmental Goods and Services’.
In spite of the department’s claim that the research in question was not publically funded, at least £125,000 has been spent by the department on producing revisions of the report, which is only “one element of the contract” (Appendix D, section 5) between the department and Innovas/K-Matrix. It would seem that this report has been useful in the promotion — if not the design — of certain policies by the department itself and other organisations such as the CBI (“The Colour of Growth” report, 2012 – http://www.cbi.org.uk/media/1552876/energy_climatechangerpt_web.pdf ) and the REA (“Renewable Energy: Made in Britain” report, 2012 – http://www.r-e-a.net/resources/pdf/61/Renewable_Energy_-_Made_in_Britain_Executive_Summary.pdf). I note also that the London Mayor’s office has used the same data.
The department seems, by commissioning the work, to have effectively both created a market for the research, and marketed the company’s product and services to the wider governmental, third-sector, business associations and companies with an interest in environmental policies.
This in turn suggests that a much closer working relationship between the department and the company exists, again belying the department’s statements that an off-the-shelf product existed before it engaged the company to produce its research.
The research designed by BIS and completed by Innovas/K-Matrix has, at the very least, influenced the wider public debate. Meanwhile, claims made in that debate have been protected from scrutiny and criticism by a ‘paywall’ — the department’s claim to be protecting a third party’s intellectual property and commercial interests. In order to challenge the government’s policies, the advice that the department produces, or the arguments produced by other organisations in the wider public debate, it would be necessary to buy access to the database, and a licence to reproduce it for public consumption — something that is clearly beyond the means of most individuals and organisations.
In summary, it is clearly the case that the LCEGS sector has no meaning to anyone who lacks access to the complete list of column headings from the database, yet this research has influenced the direction of public policy. Thus, if transparent policymaking is important, there is a real public interest in releasing this part (column headings) of the research in question. I believe that the department’s ‘public interest test’ has not been reasonable, and that the department’s claim that the database is the intellectual property of Innovas/K-Matrix is at best incomplete, possibly misleading and certainly opaque. Furthermore, I believe that the responses to my requests for information have not been conducted in the spirit of the FOI Act. Finally, I believe that refusal to release data on the basis of protecting commercial interests is at best disingenuous, and raises serious questions about the use of third party research to advance policy decisions and arguments.
I would also like to draw your attention to the inclusion of my name in correspondence between the department and Innovas/K-Matrix. I believe that I am entitled to the same privacy that the department granted to individuals at the department and at the company, whose names were redacted in the correspondence between them, sent to me following my second request.
I look forward to your reply,