Sunak Appoints Ex-Big Energy Directoras Business and Energy Advisor
Rishi Sunak’s Government is populated by a number of advisors drawn from corporations and Tufton Street ‘think tanks’, reports Sam Bright
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has appointed a former senior big energy figure as his Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) advisor, Byline Times can reveal.
Nick Park has been recruited to this key role, that will help to inform the Government’s policies on the cost of living crisis, which is linked to the rapidly rising cost of energy. For seven years from 2013 to 2020, Park worked for Centrica, the parent company of energy giant British Gas, serving variously as head of policy, director of policy and insight, and group head of corporate communications. Prior to moving into the energy sector, Park was director of policy and research at the Conservative Party.
The Government has in recent months announced a £2,500 average cap on energy bills – expected to cost £60 billion for its first six months, a subsidy paid to energy companies.
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Centrica reported £1.3 billion in operating profits for the first six months of 2022 – up from £262 million a year earlier – and says that it now plans to cap its profits. However, the firm hasn’t declared exactly how much it is prepared to relinquish in the short-term. Via British Gas, Centrica is the largest provider of household energy in the UK.
Park evidently has extensive experience in the sector, but his appointment may potentially signal a sympathetic attitude to the big energy companies from Sunak’s administration, while opposition groups call for more extensive windfall taxes to be levied on their profits.
The Government announced in May a 25% levy on excess energy profits, which it hoped would raise £8 billion. However, in part due to a loophole in the scheme allowing a 91p tax break for firms investing in new energy exploration, the actual figure raised by the Government is unclear. Indeed, Shell has announced that it has paid no windfall tax in the UK, despite logging record global profits of nearly £26 billion so far this year. Sunak personally received £141,000 for his Conservative leadership campaign from energy interests.
Ahead of the Government’s fiscal event next week, during which it will attempt to fill a £50 billion ‘black hole’ in the public finances, reports have suggested that Sunak and his Chancellor Jeremy Hunt are considering raising the windfall tax rate from 25% to 30% and extending it by three years to 2028 – hoping to raise £40 billion in the process.
Another interesting appointment to Sunak’s Downing Street operation is Bill Morgan, who has been installed as the Prime Minister’s health advisor. Morgan was previously an advisor to Andrew Lansley from 2010 to 2012, while the latter was serving as Health Secretary.
Lansley’s controversial NHS reforms increased the privatisation of the health service, by allowing a greater role for private companies in local health bodies – leading to the outsourcing of billions in healthcare contracts. A recent University of Oxford analysis published in the Lancet Public Health journal found that Lansley’s privatisation reforms corresponded with a decline in healthcare quality and “significantly increased” rates of death from treatable causes.
Academics at the King’s Fund have also concluded that Lansley’s reforms “created a system of considerable complexity and confused accountabilities. Reforms that were intended to simplify and streamline the organisation of the NHS have had the opposite effect and have resulted in a vacuum in system leadership at a local as well as national level”.
Morgan was involved in this privatisation process. In 2011, leaked emails between Morgan and the private healthcare company Tribal appeared to provide the Department of Health with a list of ‘pro-privatisation’ GPs to help convince ministers and the public of the need for further NHS privatisation.
And Morgan is not the only former Government advisor brought back into the fold by Sunak’s administration. As reported by Byline Times, Sunak has appointed a former advisor to ex-Chancellor George Osborne, Eleanor Shawcross, as his head of policy. Shawcross donated £20,000 to Sunak’s leadership campaign.
Osborne is himself reportedly advising Hunt while Rupert Harrison, Osborne’s former chief of staff, is also one of four figures appointed by Hunt to a new economic advisory council. It is expected that Sunak and Hunt will announce new, stringent cuts to public services – similar to the austerity programme imposed by Osborne after 2010.
Downing Street did not respond on the record to our request for comment.
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As previously revealed by Byline Times, a number of advisors linked to opaquely-funded libertarian Tufton Street lobbying groups were appointed across Whitehall during Liz Truss’ short-lived tenure in 10 Downing Street.
While the prominence of these groups appears to have receded, they still retain pockets of support across Sunak’s administration.
Adam Memon, who was head of economic research at the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) from 2014 to 2015, retains his role at the Treasury under Hunt. Callum Price, meanwhile, previously head of communications and external affairs at the CPS, has been shifted from the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab’s office.
Another CPS alumnus to have jumped departments is the organisation’s former head of communications, Robyn Staveley, who has moved from the Department for Education to the office of the Leader of the House of Commons, Penny Mordaunt.
James Price, formerly of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, has meanwhile been transferred from the Cabinet Office to the office of Conservative Party Chairman Nadhim Zahawi.
Notably, with the reappointment of James Cleverly as Foreign Secretary, Tufton Street retains a strong body of support in the Foreign Office. Victoria Hewson, until recently the counsel and head of regulatory affairs at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), has retained her place as an advisor to the Foreign Office and the Northern Ireland Office.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman meanwhile appears to have appointed Jake Ryan – former Home Affairs correspondent at the Mail on Sunday – as one of her advisors, perhaps signalling the audience for her anti-asylum policies. The long-time political editor of the Express, Macer Hall, has also been appointed as an advisor at the Department of Health and Social Care.
Sunak has marked a shift in tone since the Boris Johnson and Liz Truss eras, promising to govern with “compassion”. However, surveying his backroom operation, it seems that – like his predecessors – he will be influenced by a swathe of advisors drawn from corporate giants and opaquely-funded ‘think tanks’.