Plugging away – the story of an FOI request

Claire Coutinho Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero AKA Energy price gouging and climate scamming. NO PLAN, except to rob you blind.
David Woolfall, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Although I do some project management stuff from time to time as part of my daily grind I am by no means an expert, but I do properly understand the basics.

I was pondering the government’s seemingly endless stream of Net Zero “committments”, “pledges”, “objectives” and “targets” a while back and a thought crossed my mind:

Do they actually have a plan for this?

At this point it is important to define what is meant by a “plan”.  A plan is different to a statement of intent (“I’m going to learn to play the piano”) or a desired outcome (“One day I’ll own a Gibson Les Paul guitar”).

As a minimum a plan should set out:

*activities – the work to be done
*deliverables – what the work will produce
*timescales – when the work will start and finish
*workstreams – how the work will be organised in an efficient manner
*dependencies – which work can’t start until other work has finished
*key assumptions – what you expect will happen, outside of your control, to support/allow all of the above

The government seemed to be big on deliverables and the “finish” bit of timescales and had done a decent job of splitting the work up into workstreams (replacing ICE vehicles with Evs was one, getting heat pumps used was another for example).

It did strike me that they were almost silent on, in particular, dependencies and assumptions.  Anyone with half a brain would realise that in order to hit the heat pump and EV targets you would have to be able to deliver enough power to UK houses, so there is a dependency on the grid being able to do that (if it needs to be upgraded in order to do so) or an assumption that it will be able to without an upgrade (that assumption would also need some evidence to support it).

Dependencies are often like rows of dominoes – the dependency on the grid to deliver the power has a linked dependency on the power being available, which should be satisfied by the activities in the workstream to move to renewable energy.  That workstream would, therefore, have a dependency on being able to store renewable energy or to source it when needed from some other country or from a non-renewable resource.

You can see how it goes.

Being in the mood to shake the tree (aka “organic-based self-replicating carbon sequestration and storage facility”) I decided, in August 2023, to submit the following FoI request:

“Can you please provide a copy of the high-level plan to meet the UK’s 2050 net zero commitment. I would expect such a plan to show, where defined:

*key assumptions

I do *not* want, nor expect to see any contractual, commercial or financial information related to the delivery of the plan.”

(The last bit was added to avoid any obvious “Get out of jail free” card deployment).

On 1st September I received the following response:

We have considered your request in accordance with the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (‘the EIRs’) as the information you request falls within the definition of ‘environmental information’ in the EIRs.

Since November 2020, we have published the Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, the Energy White Paper, the North Sea Transition Deal, the Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy, the Transport Decarbonisation Plan, the Hydrogen Strategy, our Heat and Buildings Strategy, the Net Zero Strategy, the British Energy Security Strategy, Jet Zero Strategy and, most recently, Powering Up Britain.

The following publications outline our net zero commitments, which detail deliverables,

timescales, assumptions and workstreams which have been taken into account for the UK to reach net zero by 2050:

I was immediately interested in the avoidance of the word “dependencies”.  I had a look at the links (one of which was broken) and, sure enough, there was just a whole load of wishlist waffle about what was going to magically happen.

There is a defined escalation route for FoI requests, so I went to the next step, which is to request an internal review, which I did with a polite email:

“I would like to request an internal review of my FoI request (ref: xxxxxx).

The response given fails to provide the plan requested, in particular with regard to the activities required to produce the defined deliverables and the dependencies between these activities.  A set of deliverables/outcomes, no matter how well defined, is just a wish list, not a plan.

This should not be a difficult request to satisfy – either there is an overall plan to get us to net zero by 2050 or there isn’t.”

As quick as a flash (well, late October) I had a response:

Internal Review of response to Freedom of Information Request

I am writing following your email of 3 September asking for an internal review of the response to your Freedom of Information (FOI) request. I am xxxxx, Deputy Director, in the Department for Energy Security & Net Zero (DESNZ) and I undertook the review. When I carried out the review, I considered the information which was withheld, and whether the original response to your request was correct. My decision is explained below.

Your original request was made on 17 August 2023 and asked for the following


“Can you please provide a copy of the high-level plan to meet the UK’s 2050 net zero

commitment. I would expect such a plan to show, where defined:

* activities
* deliverables
* timescales
* workstreams
* dependencies
* key assumptions

I do *not* want, nor expect, to see any contractual, commercial or financial information related to the delivery of the plan.”

The Department answered your request on 1 September 2023. The response provided links to publications which outline our net zero commitments, this contained detail deliverables, timescales, assumptions and workstreams which have been taken into account for the UK to reach net zero by 2050.

Having considered the information in the light of your request for an internal review, I have concluded that the department provided a detailed and comprehensive response to your request. The publications provided outline our net zero commitments, these detail deliverables, timescales, assumptions and workstreams which have been taken into account for the UK to reach net zero by 2050. There is no other information we would be able to provide.

If you are not content with the outcome of the internal review, you have the right to apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a decision. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at: Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF.

Yours sincerely,

Net Zero Strategy Directorate

Well the next step was pretty obvious, so I filled in the required information for the ICO:

Field Value
Sequence ID FOIA-0000000000000
What is your complaint? The public body says it does not hold the information and I disagree, or I believe it holds more information than it has sent
What specific aspect of the handling of or final response to your FOI/EIR request are you dissatisfied with? My original FOI asked for high-level information on the government’s plan to get to Net Zero by 2050. To avoid ambiguity I requested the high-level plan and specified six aspects which needed to be addressed, all of which are standard components of any project plan.

The original response provided some information on four of these aspects (through links to existing documents, one of which was a dead link) so I requested an internal review to gain information on the other two.

The reply to that review has provided no further information but states that the reply originally given was “comprehensive”, which it clearly was not.

Do you have any previous or existing ICO cases that relate to this complaint? No
Your request for information Original FOI request.pdf
The public body’s response (if received) Initial response.pdf
Your request for an internal review Request for internal review
The public body’s internal review (if received) EIR2023 IR response.pdf
Add another False
I’m sending more information by post False
What other details (if any) would you like to provide? It is inconceivable that the government’s high level plan is not supported by both information on the activities to be undertaken to deliver the plan and the dependencies between these activities, especially as some of these activities are already underway.

I have been very clear that I am *not* asking for any sensitive financial, commercial or legal information to be shared

Public body name Department for Energy Security and Net Zero
Contact name xxxx, Deputy Director, DESNZ
Reference number One then another
First name Northern
Last name Man
Company/organisation (if relevant)
I’m acting on behalf of someone else False
Your email
Phone Please do
Address Flat 3, Puffin House, Kek Street, GQ Made, M3 D01T
I understand that the ICO may need to share the information I have provided so they can look into my complaint, and have indicated any information or documents that I don’t want the ICO to share. I understand the ICO will keep the information relating to my complaint, including any documents for two years, or longer if necessary. If I am making a complaint on someone else’s behalf, I confirm that I am allowed to act on their behalf. True

To be fair to the ICO, by early November they emailed me to tell me that my case had qualified for investigation and that they were allocating a case officer to handle it.

Time passed, in the sense that tumbleweed seeds germinated and grew to the point where they released themselves from their earthly tethers and bumbled around, waiting in vain to see a roadrunner being chased by a coyote (fun fact – a coyote can easily outrun a roadrunner).

So here we are in February, when I finally received the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything, set out in three simple points:

  1. The complainant has requested information from the Department for Energy Security & Net Zero (DESNZ) regarding a copy of the plan to meet the UK’s 2050 net zero commitment. DESNZ provided the complainant with links to the requested information and advised that no further information was held.
  1. The Commissioner’s decision is that on the balance of probabilities DESNZ does not hold a copy of a plan or any further information in relation to the request. 
  1. The Commissioner does not require any steps as a result of this decision notice.

Just read that second one again – DESNZ does not have a plan to deliver net zero.

Basically, as suspected/known, the government is just splurging our money on a series of projects (from which they and their mates may or may not get rich – I wouldn’t like to speculate) with no actual planned route to get us to net zero, even if that were a sensible objective in the first place.

Of the many documents I was pointed at, if you really want to see how unhinged the government and its advisers are take a look at this one – it is peppered with “here a miracle occurs” assumptions in order to get from the left hand side of a chart to the right.

Grim reading: HM Govt Net Zero Strategy

© Northern Man 2024