NEWS17 October 2008

UK government stands by nuclear policy after MRS code breach

Criticism of Opinion Leader project ‘does not undermine our decision’ says Department of Energy and Climate Change

UK— The UK government is standing by the results of its consultation on nuclear power, after research firm Opinion Leader, which conducted the project, was found to have been in breach of the MRS Code of Conduct.

The consultation, conducted in September 2007, came out in favour of the government’s plans to build new nuclear power stations. But, following a complaint from Greenpeace that elements of the consultation had been biased, the Market Research Standards Board said yesterday that Opinion Leader had breached rule B14 of its Code which requires that steps are taken “to ensure amongst other things that respondents would not be led towards a particular answer”.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change said in a statement: “This is a report on Opinion Leader’s management of a day of events which formed only one component of a wider massive consultation. The outcome of our consultation stands up whatever the view of the MRS of Opinion Leader’s role. This does not undermine our decision on the nuclear issue and the need to deal with climate change. It comes on the day we increased our target to deal with emissions to 80% by 2050, and nuclear will play a key role in achieving that. Greenpeace made in total five complaints to the MRS, four of which have been rejected and only one upheld. This fifth complaint is strongly disputed by Opinion Leader who have a high reputation in the industry. That’s why we asked them to do this work, after a thorough tendering process.”

A departmental spokesman told Research: “The MRS statement speaks volumes when it says deliberative research is so new there’s no proper guidelines on doing it. To a large degree this is about the lack of clarity within the marketing industry about this, and this is why we don’t think it has an implication for the outcome of our consultation.”

But Greenpeace, which filed the complaint with the MRS last year, said: “Ministers claim this was just a small part of a big process, but that only holds water if you think the public is a small part of a public consultation.” The MRS ruling, said Greenpeace boss John Sauven, leaves the government’s energy policy “in disarray”.

Dr Paul Dorfman, one of a group of scientists who published a scathing review of the consultation exercise last year, said: “It is clear that the government has failed to consult the public in any meaningful way on key issues… Poor consultation practice wastes people’s time and can seriously undermine people’s trust in govermment.”

Chris Baugh, assistant general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: “The government’s attempt to fix the consultation on nuclear power so they could go ahead regardless of public opinion has spectacularly backfired. It exposes the government’s attempt to deceive the public on the nuclear issue.”

In an interview with Research today, Opinion Leader’s Viki Cooke said efforts are underway to come up with a code of conduct for deliberative engagement. The company, which does not accept the MRS ruling, is considering its position before deciding whether to take any further action on the matter, she said.

Author: Robert Bain

Related links:

Scientists criticise OLR’s nuclear role

Greenpeace issues legal threat over UK nuclear consultation

Greenpeace blasts Opinion Leader over nuclear polls