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Andrew Warren, BEEF Chairman

INCA is a member of BEEF, the British Energy Efficiency Federation. This is a group of organisations that meets quarterly to discuss issues facing industries working in the energy efficiency sector. Chairman, Andrew Warren, explains the provenance of the Federation, and the work that it has been part of. This article was first published on the BusinessGreen website in March 2018.

Andrew Warren reveals the low-down on the decades-spanning work of the British Energy Efficiency Federation

For the past five years I have been writing a regular column on energy efficiency policy for the BusinessGreen website. Initially I signed these as director, then honorary president, of the Association for the Conservation of Energy.

But as some eagle-eyed readers have commented, latterly my description has been altered to read “chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation”.

What, I have been asked, is this Federation? Search engines reveal no website. And precious little other information about it, apart from electronic versions of these columns.

There is though a succinct, and accurate, Wikipedia page. This states “the British Energy Efficiency Federation (BEEF) was founded in 1996 by the United Kingdom Government, to provide it with a forum for consultation with existing industry associations in the energy efficiency sector”.

It was an initiative of the then Environment Secretary and now Committee on Climate Change chairman John Gummer, now Lord Deben. It was taken forward by his Minister of State for Energy Efficiency (the only minister to date with that title), Robert Jones. He decreed that he would meet on a quarterly basis with the heads of the leading trade associations involved with the manufacture, distribution or installation of energy saving goods and services – of which he identified 18 at the time: coincidentally, the same number as today.

At each quarterly plenary meeting, which would be held in the Departmental HQ, a series of specific topics would be addressed. The lead civil servant in question would attend to make an initial presentation, and then be quizzed by BEEF members.

Given that several Departments of State other than his were frequently overseeing key portfolios impinging upon delivering energy efficiency, he granted the powers to summon both “people and papers” from other pertinent ministries.

As a former chairman of a House of Commons Select Committee, Jones reckoned the procedure would operate rather like a parliamentary committee in terms of the question-and-answer format. Obviously there would be no verbatim Hansard-style record created. But after each session, minutes would be issued, noting both all the matters arising, and the conclusions reached.

These minutes would then be circulated both within the Department, and most importantly to all the trade association members, so as to ensure that they – not just their officials – were kept fully up to date with policy developments.

Scroll forward to the present. What Robert Jones created has very largely survived. Obviously the personnel have altered. After the change of government, Robert Jones left parliament, became chairman of the housebuilders Redrow, and then sadly died at the young age of 56. BEEF’s initial chairman Michael Vint, head of the then heating controls association, TACMA, retired in 2004. The name of the sponsoring department changed no less than five times – it is now the Business Department.

But the basic format remains the same. BEEF plenaries are still held in the Departmental HQ every three months. The only exception I can recall being back in 2009, when we had invited the new Opposition shadow minister to attend – one Greg Clark, now the Business Secretary – and the then Energy Secretary Ed Milliband forbade such a session to be held within his Department. The plenary meeting duly took place in a member association’s offices just the other side of the River Thames.

BEEF plenary meetings operate with a formal agenda, agreed between its member associations and the civil servants deputed as the liaison people. Sadly subsequent Ministers have varied in their enthusiasm to physically attend each session – although most have sought regular briefings from BEEF chairmen regarding both current and planned programmes.

From the start it was agreed that BEEF itself would have a very limited public profile. Nor has BEEF itself tended to respond to formal Departmental consultations. It has always been considered to be far more appropriate for these responses to come from individual member trade associations. This is much in line with the decision not to create any formal website.

Occasionally BEEF does make a corporate statement. We certainly did when during the Coalition Government the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles sought to renege on policies regarding incorporating the concept of “Consequential Improvements” for existing buildings within building regulations.

And the Wikipedia site also includes formal evidence given to the Treasury in response to a consultation it ran in 2002, proposing a whole variety of options for fiscal incentives like council tax and stamp duty alterations, intended to promote investment in residential energy efficiency. Sadly none of which it has subsequently implemented.

The effectiveness of the relationship between BEEF and its sponsoring department has inevitably waxed and waned, depending mostly upon how much or how little energy efficiency is the departmental flavour of the month.

Some civil servants invited to attend have regarded doing so as a dreary chore, and simply gone through the motions of attempting serious discussion with our industry. Conversely others regard involvement as a positive way of eliciting guidance from the “coal face”, seriously involving BEEF members in the detailed development of new policies. These are often in spin-off sessions run separately from the quarterly plenary.

Particularly following the inexplicable demise of the Energy Efficiency Deployment Office, there is no longer any obvious directorate within the Business Department to lead on providing the government with a liaison point. Although fortuitously we have now ended up working with some sympathetic individuals who appreciate the advantages of this unique arrangement.

We must be mindful that personnel reshuffles could all too easily jeopardise this. That said, it was a remarkable vision that created an arrangement that continues to work so well after 22 years. Which is why I am proud to be BEEF’s current chairman.