UK government to adopt BP business model

BROWNE STUFF In 2007, Hazards magazine suggested BP's Lord Browne should be behind bars. Now he's the UK's unelected Czar.

John Browne, Tony Hayward’s predecessor as chief executive of BP, has been appointed by the UK government to oversee moves to make Whitehall “more businesslike.” Lord Browne was the architect of the much criticised BP cost- and safety-cutting strategy implicated in the Texas City refinery disaster, which killed 15, and a sequence of other safety and environmental crimes.

The scope of the peer’s shake-up of government will include all ministries, including those responsible for workplace and environmental safety and the energy industry.

Commenting on his appointment as a ‘lead non-executive director’ in government, Lord Browne said: “This is a role within government but also independent of it. Its purpose is to assist in the delivery of policy using relevant experience from business. There is a great need for the best of the business community to be involved during these challenging times for the UK.”

Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, said: “His experience will be a real benefit in our drive to make Whitehall work in a more businesslike manner and I am looking forward to working with him to implement our vital reform programme.”

The Conservative Party, which leads the UK’s coalition government, is wedded to the idea of a business-friendly, “burden” lifting, programme of deregulation. The coalition has already embarked on a review of health and safety regulation, and a Conservative policy paper pre-election promised “the powers of government inspectors will be drastically curbed”, adding the party’s objective was “taming regulators” by “replacing regulator-run public teams of inspectors with a model closer to financial controls and audits.” In the UK, far and away the two biggest regulators are the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The model is, in effect, that secured by BP and other oil interests in the Gulf of Mexico, where firm regulation was sacrificed in favour of paper agreements and oil industry self-regulation.

The worker safety standards in place for offshore oil rigs before the Deepwater Horizon blast were voluntary and developed in consultation with the oil industry, a senior official at the retooled Minerals Management Service (MMS) – in a seemingly premature move renamed last month as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement admitted to US lawmakers on 23 June.

Doug Slitor, now the acting chief of offshore regulatory programmes at the reorganised agency, told members of the House Education and Labor Committee that his office is working to turn the worker safety guidelines – drafted with the oil industry lobbying group the American Petroleum Institute – into a mandatory programme.

Rep. George Miller, chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, commented that BP was “a multinational corporation with a dismal safety record in this country.” A share of the more egregious crimes occurred while the company was under the direction of Lord Browne – Tony Hayward took over the reins in 2007.

Questions have already been raised about the company’s safety record in the UK, where the troubled oil giant has been caught breaking health and safety regulations 54 times over the past five years. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) enforcement database show the official action against the British multinational relates to a series of maintenance and operating lapses which put workers and the environment at risk from major leaks, fires and accidents in the North Sea and elsewhere.

As a result HSE has served BP companies with 21 legal enforcement notices since 2006, requiring lax and dangerous practices to be improved. The company, however, has not been prosecuted by the watchdog since 2005.

The analysis of the HSE enforcement database shows that four BP companies – BP Exploration, BP Oil UK, BP Chemicals and BP Shipping – have been hit with legal notices in the last five years. There have been 54 breaches of eight health and safety laws or regulations. A BP spokesperson said the company’s safety record compared well to that of others, adding: “We are never complacent and are continually looking at ways to reduce even the smallest of leaks.”

But Juliet Swann of Friends of the Earth Scotland said: “Companies like BP have for years been taking shortcuts with safety that risk human life, the environment and people’s pensions.”

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