Conflict of interest unease grows over Steve Barclay's new role
Campaigners are raising concerns, and exasperation, over a potential conflict of interest in the appointment of the new UK Environment Secretary, who is married to a senior executive at a sewage-dumping water firm.
Amongst the surprises hurtled at the British public in Rishi Sunak’s dramatic re-shuffle, Thérèse Coffey was replaced by Steve Barclay as Tory Environment Secretary – the seventh in seven years.
Whilst Steve Barclay’s demotion from Health Secretary came as a welcome relief to many in the health industry, after presiding through hugely fractured industrial disputes, his appointment to take charge on the environment has already hit an unsteady start.
Karen Barclay, his wife, works as the Head of Regional Engagement at Anglian Water, a water firm now one of six currently under investigation in a sewage dumping inquiry by the regulator Ofwat.
Anglian Water has been found to breach environment law 72 times and in April the company faced the largest fine ever imposed for environmental offences in the East region, at £2.65 million. It was found by the Environment Agency to have led a “catalogue of failures” in managing and monitoring its sites, leading huge quantities to untreated sewage overflowing into the sea.
Liz Webster, Founder of Save British Farming, referred to it as a “conflict of interest on steroids” whilst others have also highlighted that the new Health Secretary is married to the CEO of a sugar company and cannabis farm, pointing to a more insipid conflict of interest issue in the Tory Party.
Environmentalist Dale Vince commented: “Husband of water company boss becomes Environment Secretary – amidst the biggest sewage pollution scandal in British history – nothing to be concerned about, business as usual for the Tory party under Sunak.”
LLF contributing editor Prem Sikka wrote: “Steve Barclay is the new Environment Secretary. His wife is an executive at Anglian Water which has not plugged leaks, dumps sewage in rivers and built no new reservoirs and been fined. Anyone notice conflict of interests? What could go wrong?”
Environmental campaigners could all but hope that the departure of Thérèse Coffey could spark some actually progress on environmental regulations.
However one journalist on X has also pointed out some of Barclay’s previous votes related to the environment, which do not bode well. They included voting:
‘-against a ban on peat burning
-for the sale of national forests
– against measures to prevent climate change, on 26 occasions’
Rebecca Newsom, Head of Politics at Greenpeace UK, said the in-tray for the new Environment Secretary is “filling up faster than a river downstream from a sewage plant.”
“Steve Barclay needs to act fast, because unfortunately the British public are already seeing what failure looks like,’’ said Newsom.
“The issues are stark and require urgent leadership: clean up our waterways, get a grip on plastic pollution, help to deliver breathable cities, ratify the Global Ocean Treaty and make farming deliver for nature. That’s the success we need.”
Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues