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Sunday Times

May 22, 2005

Wind farm boss puffs up Labour's election funds

THE owner of a wind farm company which stands to make millions from Labour’s push for alternative energy will this week emerge as one of the party’s biggest donors during the general election campaign.

Nigel Doughty, a venture capitalist, gave Labour £250,000 after a dinner with Tony Blair held for potential donors earlier this year. His investment company owns LM Glasfiber, the world’s biggest wind turbine manufacturer, which is likely to profit from the huge expansion of wind power under Labour. It has already won many major contracts in Britain.

The donation will be disclosed by the Electoral Commission this week. A senior Labour source said it was one of its most significant gifts in the run-up to the election.

“Doughty is a major donor, one of our most important. He was brought in after a private dinner with the prime minister for potential donors,” said the source. “His connections with wind farms are known.”

The gift from a businessman operating in a field sensitive to government policy will again raise concerns about Labour’s sources of funding. Doughty, who is also chairman of Nottingham Forest football club, has never previously given money to Labour although he did sign a public letter of support for the party before the election.

A leading venture capitalist, he keeps a low profile, living in a large home in Hampstead, north London, owned by an offshore trust. He is joint 916th in the The Sunday Times Rich List with a fortune put at £52m. His venture capital firm, Doughty Hanson, bought LM Glasfiber, a Danish company, in 2001. He is expected to raise about £500m by floating it on the stock market.

Other investments include Umbro, the sportswear firm fined for fixing football shirt prices, and Priory Healthcare, a firm of clinics popular with celebrities fighting addictions.

It is not known if Doughty discussed wind power with Blair during the dinner arranged by Sir Ronald Cohen, a venture capitalist and leading Labour donor. But Labour’s support of wind farms is certainly important to his group.

Last March, at a presentation to investors, LM Glasfiber boasted that the British market was one of its most important and was set for “substantial growth in 2005”. It has already supplied numerous wind turbine blades in this country including those for the Cefn Croes wind farm in Wales.

The government has pushed ahead with plans to construct more than 5,000 wind turbines in remote areas despite massive local opposition.

Blair has said wind farms are necessary to meet the country’s commitment to produce energy from renewable sources. The government’s target is 10% of electricity from renewable sources by 2010 with an ambition to double the figure to 20% by 2020. More than £1 billion a year will be given in state subsidies to the renewable energy industry to meet the target.

Critics believe that the relatively small amounts of energy produced by each turbine do not justify the damage they cause to the landscape.

Yesterday David Willetts, the shadow trade and industry spokesman, said people were “baffled” by Labour’s obsession with wind farms. “Who knows what the donor has discussed with the prime minister about wind farms,” he said.

The issue will be top of the political agenda next month when the government sets out its long-term energy needs.

Doughty declined to comment yesterday. Labour said all its donations were in accordance with Electoral Commission rules. It declined to comment on Doughty’s gift