NWETF and Westbourne Communications
Over the last two days we have been looking at the links between the so-called North West Energy Task Force and Westbourne Communications. We started to look at this when one of the NWETF panellists, Lee Petts, told us that “panelists aren’t involved in the day-to-day mechanics” of running the “task force” and pointed us towards the Morning Star web site which had an article about the links between Westbourne and the NWETF on it.
We discovered that there are some very clear links between Westbourne and the NWETF:
Tom Evans is described on the Westbourne website as “a Senior Account Executive at Westbourne and has worked on projects for several clients including Uber, GPlus Europe and the North West Energy Task Force.”
His LinkedIn profile though shows that he left Westbourne in January 2015 to work at “controversial firm Burson-Marsteller ” who according to Spinwatch have “a long history of working for repressive regimes and tobacco firms, setting up front groups and aiding major polluters in their greenwashing.”
It also shows that according to him his clients did not include NWETF but did include Cuadrilla and Centrica, thus suggesting that these organisations are perhaps rather more intimately linked than any of them appear happy to admit. Or of course it may just be that he is very forgetful about his clients. The High Speed Rail link is significant given what we already know about Westbourne’s tactics for “shitting up (sic)” their opponents and using “guerilla tactics” to silence their client’s opposition. The insights into Westbourne’s tactics with relation to HS2 detailed here will be very familiar to some fracking protesters on the Fylde, where we have seen several local astro-turfing groups trying to suggest that opposition to shale is just ““posh people standing in the way of working class people getting jobs”.
Another Westbourne staffer who seemed to have strong links to shale gas whilst she worked there was Amy Yiannitsarou whose LinkedIn entry shows
The Morning Star article talks about “Westbourne Communications, which has shale gas companies Centrica and Cuadrilla as clients” and “the North West Energy Task Force campaign led by Westbourne Communications”
On the Powerbase Website we can see in the entry for the NWET that it details :
- Westbourne Communications, handled by senior account executive Tom Evans, who previously worked for Jim Fitzpatrick, a former Labour minister for transport and Defra. The firm appears to have produced NWETF’s Exploring Shale Series.
A Freedom of information request revealed correspondence between an unnamed Westbourne executive and Guy Robinson at DEFRA who was at the time a special adviser to former environment secretary Owen Paterson , to request a meeting on ‘shale gas and farming’. This makes it clear that he/she is closely linked to the NWETF as they help “to co-ordinate the communication for the North West Energy Task Force”
We have tried to ask some of the NWETF panellists on Twitter whether Westbourne actually run the NWETF but they either refuse to answer or post childish responses. This is how the chairman of the Lancashire branch of the IOD and NWETF panellist, John Kersey, responded to my question.
Update 19/11/15 – Mr Kersey has now responded again and confirmed what we believed:
Interestingly there is another connection between Westbourne Communications and the powers that be in the North West.
Account Executive Christopher Rees is presumably well known to our local MP Mark Menzies – “Christopher Rees is an Account Executive at Westbourne, focusing on energy, including working on clients such as Liquid Air and the Green Deal Finance Company.
Prior to this, he worked in Mark Menzies MP’s Westminster Office as his Senior Parliamentary Assistant. Responsible for the overall running of the office, Chris worked closely with Mark in his Parliamentary Private Secretary roles to both the Minister of State for Energy and for Housing. ”
So – there we have it – it would seem reasonable to conclude that Westbourne Communications actually is the “éminence grise” behind the North West Energy Task force.
We should note that, as far as we are aware, there is nothing actually illegal in companies funding front groups like this, or employing aggressive PR firms to try to quash and discredit local opposition. We just don’t think it’s as effective a method of acquiring the social licence to operate that the frackers so badly need as they seem to think it is.
We can all see through everything they do, as the recent fiasco with the revelations of invented support for the Task Force showed, and one thing people really hate is being treated like fools by people who are trying to put one over on them. They really should know better.
As a final word it is interesting to see that in spite of claiming huge support from local businesses the NWETF have, according to their own web site, signed up just four people in the last year.
Could do better?