Pressure grows for grant loss answers

PRESSURE is mounting on the Government to explain why the region lost out on a £1bn renewable energy research grant.

PRESSURE is mounting on the Government to explain why the region lost out on a £1bn renewable energy research grant.

The North-East had prepared what was thought to be the strongest bid to host the Government’s Energy Technology Institute (ETI).

The ETI hub would have placed the North-East at the forefront of the Government’s efforts to tackle global warming and potentially bring thousands of jobs with it. Newcastle University was leading the region’s push for climate change glory, with an impressive list of backers from renewable energy companies.

Instead the Government appointed selection panel chose a Midlands-based, Loughborough University-led bid.

Since then questions have been asked over how a university with links to the ETI selection panel came to secure the research funding. At a meeting of the North-East Assembly yesterday the outgoing scrutiny group promised to look into how the region lost out.

NEA chief Alex Watson said it was important the region had answers.

He said: “It might just be that we need them for our own good, so we know where we went wrong and what to do next time we bid for a large Government project.

“But it is known that we had an incredibly strong bid, that the North-East was thought by all to be far ahead.

“Somehow we lost out and no-one yet has said just what it was about the Midlands bid that allowed it to beat us. We will be writing to the Government and asking them to explain this decision.”

Mr Watson’s concerns are shared by regional minister Nick Brown, who had made securing the ETI hub his number one priority.

The Newcastle East and Wallsend MP has now promised to “go over the decision with a fine-tooth comb”.

He has also written to energy minister Malcolm Wicks to ask what the criteria were for choosing the location and how the North-East was scored. He has also asked what interest were declared when the final decision was made.

Mr Brown will use his parliamentary role to look into what happened when the 10-man selection panel was considering behind closed doors how to spend the £1bn pot.

And Hexham MP Peter Atkinson told The Journal he is hoping to use an upcoming adjournment debate to raise the questions in the House of Commons.

Read other articles on page two to see how the ETI story has developed

13/10/07

The £1bn questions that won't go away

A GROWING number of North MPs were last night demanding answers over why the region missed out on a groundbreaking £1bn renewable energy hub.

Both Labour and Conservative politicians are asking fresh questions over the transparency of the decision-making process that also saw the North lose out on thousands of potential new jobs.

Last month, the region lost out to Loughborough,

in the Midlands, in the contest to host the Energy Technologies Institute – a major part of the Government’s effort to tackle climate change.

The Journal has already revealed how one of the 10 judges on the panel that decided the ultimate destination of the ETI later became its Chief Executive.

Now fresh concerns have been raised about the transparency of the process.

The Journal has established that two months before the final decision, one of the judges was already working with the man who led the winning bid on setting set up a similar renewable energy centre at Loughborough.

The judge – Bob Taylor – is managing director of E.ON which provided funding for Professor Dennis Loveday to create a low carbon energy technology research programme in the Midlands town.

At the same time, Professor Loveday was also leading the Midlands bid to win the ETI.

E.ON were also a major sponsor of the ETI project as a whole. Half of the funding came from the Government, half from the private sector, with E.ON providing some of the private cash. An early press release from E.ON put the size of their sponsorship at £50m.

Although Bob Taylor declared an interest and stepped down from the chairmanship of the panel who chose the ETI location, he remained on the panel during the selection process.

Newcastle East and Wallsend MP Nick Brown said: "The chairman had a clear relationship to one of the candidates and if he were a councillor or an MP it may well have been inappropriate to take such a major part in the decision.

"There is a large amount of public money at stake here and it is important we ask tough questions.

"It is essential that the decision-making process over where to spend public funds is open to scrutiny, independent, transparent and above reproach. Clearly the specific issues will need to be closely examined by the relevant authorities."

Hexham Conservative MP Peter Atkinson has promised to secure a Commons adjournment debate on the final ETI decision.

He said: "It is very important that clear and transparent procedures were followed.

"I am concerned about the connections between the individuals involved."

Alistair MacDonald, spokesman for the ETI board, said the judges had made their decision based on the individual bids’ merits. Scotland also missed out.

He added that Mr Taylor had declared an interest and was replaced as the panel’s chair in the final meeting.

The Journal attempted to contact Professor Loveday but was informed he was unavailable. The Journal also tried to contact Mr Taylor, but we were told that all inquiries must go through the company.

A spokesman for E.ON said: "The selection of the location of the ETI was a completely transparent process and all bidders were assessed against a specific set of criteria.

"We were one of 10 organisations to participate in the process and great steps were taken to ensure a fair process for all the bidders.

"Our commitment to the ETI was made irrespective of the eventual location of the Institute and we look forward to working with the Institute as it begins to look for new ways to help the UK meet the twin challenges of climate change and security of supply."

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

29/09/07

Just why did we miss out

NORTH-East MPs last night demanded answers over how the region lost out on a prestige £1bn energy research project.

Minister for the North-East Nick Brown believes important questions surround the decision to base the Energy Technologies Institute in the Midlands.

The North-East produced an impressive bid to site the project at Newcastle University – securing jobs and investment as the UK’s energy research capital.

But the 10-strong group of judges opted to base the project in Loughborough – and appointed panel member David Clarke as chief executive. The new boss is the former head of technology for Rolls Royce, which has a research centre based in Loughborough.

Mr Brown said: "It is important that the reasons for this decision are fully understood because of the public money involved." An ETI spokesman last night said the panel’s decision was "fair and their deliberations totally transparent."

Mr Clarke was unavailable to comment personally.

Mr Brown said he wanted a review to take a "very hard look at the reasons why this decision was made."

He promised to go over the £1.1bn deal with "a fine-tooth comb".

The Tyneside MP first contacted the then Department of Trade and Industry in May to ask why the ETI decision panel was chaired by professor Allan Jones.

Mr Jones is a professor at the University of Nottingham, which led the successful Midlands consortium. Malcolm Wicks, then minister for science, fully supported Prof Jones in that role.

The North-EAst ETI team were convinced their bid would succeed as privately members of the Midlands team declared the North-East "incredibly impressive."

Blaydon MP Dave Anderson told The Journal he had been "100% certain" the region’s bid would succeed, and is also considering raising the matter in the House of Commons.

He said: "I’m not saying it was right or wrong to base it in the Midlands, but we had a very strong case and the recent appointment does raise questions"

A spokesman for the ETI board said the decision to chose Loughborough was made on the strength of the Midlands bid. He stood by the selection panel decision.

He said: "Their decision was fair and their deliberations totally transparent.

"We are 50% owned by the Government and have always been aware of the very high standards of scrutiny and propriety attached to any decision which involves public funds."

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

21/09/07

We can still lead climate change fight But North group loses out on £1bn research grant

A NORTH-East group set up to tackle climate change has promised to continue its groundbreaking work – despite missing out on a £1bn energy research grant.

A team led by Newcastle University had prepared an impressive bid which would have turned the city into the Government’s renewable energy capital.

The Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) bid would have created as many as 8,000 jobs and secured the region’s place as a lead authority in the fight against global warming.

Despite international support and an impressive list of green businesses choosing to base themselves in the region, civil servants decided the Midlands’ Loughborough facilities would make the ideal ETI hub.

Minister for the North-East Nick Brown, who made supporting the bid his regional priority, said the region could still lead the way.

He said: "I find this decision hard to accept, we had a first-class bid.

"I’m sure we in the region will want to continue to work together and use our combined expertise in this area.

"There is clearly still a role for the region to work on these projects and lead the way in alternative energy.

"But I’m certain that Members of Parliament will want to go through the reasons for this decision with a fine toothcomb."

The North-East has an impressive track record on solar panel research and coastal energy technology.

And the country’s largest biomass power plant is already planned for the region.

Paul Younger, coordinator of the North-East’s ETI bid, said he hoped to build on this technology.

"We are extremely disappointed to hear that we have been unsuccessful in our bid to host the ETI facility.

"In our view, the decision taken today represents a missed opportunity to make the ETI project an immediate success.

"We passionately believe our offer was the best, in terms of having the capacity to deliver the required outputs, facilities and expertise required by Government and industry.

"The support we have received from industry and academia across the world has been overwhelming and uplifting and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those who formally backed the North-East bid.

"Our joint efforts have demonstrated our unrivalled strengths and we will build on these. We will advance our collaborative approach to new and renewable energy research and exploitation, and look forward to welcoming other businesses that share our vision.

"We also anticipate that key elements of the ETI project will eventually find a home in the North-East."

Innovation Secretary John Denham has so far refused to reveal why the Midlands bid was picked ahead of the North-East’s.

After announcing the winner Mr Denham said: "The establishment of this new institute at Loughborough now gives us a truly strategic focus on research and development of low carbon energy technologies, helping make the UK a world-leader in this area."

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer