Turn up the spin: how politics works

Spin dial

Imagine you run BAA. You quite want a runway at your airport, but no one else does. Your runway will require a whole village to be flattened, including three schools, a graveyard and 750 houses. Building the runway will make it very difficult to meet our climate change targets. But you really, really want the runway, because then you'll make loads of cash. What do you do?

Simple - you hire lots of ex-Labour apparatchiks to work at your company, and use their contacts ruthlessly. Meanwhile your mates in government hire a whole bunch of your ex-employees, until you've created one big incestuous family and blurred the lines between your company and the people who run the country. Sorted!

News leaks out of BAA head's history


Leaking tap

So BAA Chief Stephen Nelson has been sacked - sorry, stepped down. He is being replaced by Colin Matthews of Severn Trent Water. He sounds like an honest kinda guy, doesn't he?

But hang on just a minute folks - a quick glance at Severn's website tells a different story. In November last year the Serious Fraud Office charged Severn Trent Water with three offences relating to leakage data supplied to Ofwat between 2000 and 2002. Under Matthews's watch Severn Trent was trying to hide how much water was pouring out of their leaky pipes. This in addition to a £50 million fine for missing leakage targets. I'm sure he's learnt his lesson though. Naughty naughty!

DfT and BAA collude over consultation

Parliament 5

It was collusion on a massive scale; a stich-up so great that no one would believe it - until 5 of us took to the rooftops to shout about it. Documents obtained by Greenpeace under the Freedom of Information Act show beyond any doubt that BAA and the Department for Transport sat down to fiddle the figures and re-write the consultation on expanding Heathrow airport. But that was just the beginning...

After the rooftop action last week, someone slipped the Sunday Times even more documents (1 / 2 / 3 / 4), and their investigative reporters looked into it further. What they found showed that the collusion went further than even we'd imagined - that the government abandoned its own data on noise and pollution in favour of dodgy data collected by BAA. They set up 'Project Heathrow', headed up by senior civil servant David Gray, to fix the "strict local environmental limits" in favour of expansion. In the words of one official who worked on the project: "It’s a classic case of reverse engineering. They knew exactly what results they wanted and fixed the inputs to get there."

BAA greenwash goes into tailspin

Traffic jam

Sometimes things happen for a reason; other times, it's just coincidence. The day after Leo's post about the methods the aviation industry use to fudge their emissions, BAA puts out a press release claiming that cars arriving at Edinburgh airport pollute more than the planes. It's a classic example of greenwash.

In a slight of hand so unsubtle that even the Edinburgh Evening News mentioned it, BAA set up NOx readers at 20 locations around the airport to measure pollution levels. They showed that NOx levels were higher in the car park and on the approach roads than on the airfield - although, crucially, the readers do not measure gases emitted at altitude. BAA is comparing thousands of cars driving in and parking with the NOx emissions of aircraft taking off or landing while discarding those in flight.

What price expansion?

Money, it'a a crime

As the end of the Heathrow consultation gets closer, the eyes of the business community turn towards BAA. Expansion can reap financial rewards for investors, and those fat cats in trading houses across the City are always seeking to make some bucks. But is BAA a good investment opportunity?

Not according to the Times, which has dug up a report by investment bank JP Morgan. Those bankers aren't feeling optimistic about the company, claiming that “Based on existing capex facilities [the loan available to pay for capital expenditure] we expect BAA could run out of cash in Q1-2 2009”.

Ouch! Not what Stephen Nelson and his cronies want you to hear. But it's not the first time that analysts have doubted BAA's finances. Last month the Sunday Times reported that BAA was to make a year-end test of whether it was in breach of the covenants on some its loans, and last year we reported that financiers had downgraded BAA's economic status to 'junk'. Looks like that third runway might be a longer shot than we'd thought...

Third runway not enough says BAA

Runway 4

Anyone who thought BAA understood 'sustainable aviation' should think again. Under interview by the London Assembly's Environmental Committee, chief exec Stephen Nelson refused to rule out a fourth runway, saying that claiming the third runway was the end of expansion would make him a "hostage to fortune".

BAA has repeatedly promised that each round of expansion would be the last. In 1995, according to the Times, BAA stated in its official newsletter: "BAA has said repeatedly that Terminal 5 will not lead to a third runway. BAA has said repeatedly THERE WILL NOT BE A THIRD RUNWAY. And BAA has been proved right. The Secretary of State has accepted the BAA view. The issue has been settled; people’s concerns have been met. What now of those who claimed BAA was not telling the truth?"

What now indeed. Apparently the areas currently up for consideration for runway four are north of the airport alongside the M4 or to the south, wiping out the villages of Bedfont and Stanwell. Needless to say, both options would require the demolition of thousands of homes. Hardly likely to engender more support for their latest plan, is it?

Warning: avoid the top spin

Top spin

In October, Plane Stupid reported how Tom Kelly - the Blairite spin doctor who had to apologise to David Kelly's family after calling him a Walter Mitty character - had gone to join BAA as their director of corporate affairs.

The Guardian writes today that he commutes to work between Northern Ireland and Heathrow and that he denies BAA might just have taken him on for his ministerial phone book.

"The last thing I would want to be seen to do is play on the contacts I have from government."

I can't believe BAA would hire a spin doctor for his contacts. Surely the only spin they'd want from him would be on the tennis courts?

Does anyone still work at BAA?


Wish me luck

News reaches us that yet another BAA senior staff manager has walked the plank.

This time it's Greg Ward, operations manager for Heathrow, who left the broke and ailing company "to pursue new challenges".

I don't really blame him - I wouldn't want to work for BAA right now either...

Corporate extremists hijack international Bali party to discuss climate change

Steve Bell - climate change

A radical fringe of corporate citizens, including BAA, British Airways and easyJet, has threatened to disrupt the international talks on climate change in Bali.

The group calling themselves, Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change (CLGCC) has ominously promised that it will 'hand deliver' the 'the Bali Communique' to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, despite the high security measures surrounding him. The communique demands that emission reduction targets should be guided primarily by science rather than political or economic motivations - a radical departure from the current position of growth at all costs.

My day trip to Parliament

Dunwoody and a runway

In my years of campaigning I've come up against some tough opponents. Riot police in fields of beans behind the Camp for Climate Action; over-zealous security guards determined to keep carbon criminals operating; even angry businessmen prevented from getting to work. But nothing had prepared me for the wrath of Gwyneth Dunwoody.

Yesterday, five of us entered the Transport Select Committee inquiry into "the Future of BAA". After thirty minutes of whinging from Easyjet, BA and American Airlines that BAA weren't helping them profit from the 'cheap' flights bonanza, BAA's head honchos took the stand.