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Nuclear Management Partners (Sellafield)

Volume 590: debated on Tuesday 13 January 2015

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change if he will make a statement on Nuclear Management Partners and Sellafield.

I thank the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) for his question.

As I have informed the House today through a written ministerial statement, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has today announced a change to its commercial model at Sellafield, its largest and most complex site.

Dealing safely with the UK’s nuclear legacy is a key priority of my Department. It is important for the communities involved and for the future of nuclear power in this country. We work closely with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and its contractors to ensure that decommissioning is undertaken as effectively as possible, but as we are guardians of the public purse, we must also make sure that clean-up is done in a way that delivers the best value for money.

Over the past year, the NDA has been conducting a thorough review of its business model in the unique context of Sellafield to consider what contractual model might best deliver improved performance and value for money. In April last year, we endorsed the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s decision to roll the current parent body organisation contract—PBO—forward into the second term to ensure that the progress made in the first five-year term could be built on. The complexity and technical uncertainties at Sellafield are unique and need a management structure best suited to meeting the specific challenges faced by the site. Sellafield is the most complex industrial site in Europe. It is home to some of the oldest nuclear facilities in the world—the legacy ponds and silos that were constructed in the 1940s and ’50s—as well as the UK’s plutonium stockpile.

Because of these unique challenges, Sellafield is less well suited to the transfer of full site-wide responsibility to the private sector via a PBO structure. The NDA has now recommended to Government that management arrangements are simplified. In future, the private sector will be retained as suppliers of Sellafield Ltd rather than as owners of the site. Sellafield Ltd will remain a publicly funded company owned by the NDA. The team will be appointed and governed by a newly constituted board of the site licence company. The new model will, in due course, see a strategic partner appointed by Sellafield Ltd to strengthen the programme management and commercial capability at the site, as well as playing a key role in managing capital projects and contracts. This approach is recognised as best practice in other major projects such as Crossrail and the Olympics.

The NDA and Sellafield Ltd will manage the transition to the new arrangements, which is expected to take about 15 months to complete. This will be done in close co-operation with work force representatives, Nuclear Management Partners, the supply chain, the regulators, and the local community. The continued safe and secure operation of the Sellafield site will remain the overriding focus during the transition, and it will remain so under the new structure. This new structure is the best way to ensure that safety and value for money are pursued in tandem.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. He will appreciate that this an issue of very serious concern for the 10,000 dedicated, professional and highly valued workers employed at Sellafield and for all of us who, as taxpayers, have just seen a £20 billion public procurement decision partly reversed. I want to ask him a few specific questions on the details of his decision and his statement.

In 2013, just 15 months ago, the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), then a Minister in the Secretary of State’s Department, allowed the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to continue into a five-year contract extension for Nuclear Management Partners. This was despite a National Audit Office report from November 2012 that concluded that the contract led to

“poor project design and delivery by Sellafield Limited and weaknesses in the”

Nuclear Decommissioning

“Authority’s oversight.”

Why was that advice ignored, and why is this decision now being made today? Is it because, in reality, the situation was getting worse and not better?

The Secretary of State has suggested that in 2013, at the review point, the Government accepted the problems with the NMP contract but did not have an alternative solution prepared. What is the point of a review point if one is unable to consider other options? Will he illuminate for the House what termination fees apply to the cancellation of this contract and whether those fees could have been recovered at any stage? What assessment has his Department made of the risk of legal action from NMP to recover further funds?

Last year, it was revealed under a freedom of information request that in September 2013 KPMG completed a 277-page internal review of the contract for the NDA that was highly critical. To quote the Public Accounts Committee, it found that

“there was a mis-alignment between the objectives of NMP and the…Authority’s commitment to deliver value for money for the taxpayer, and…potential conflicts of interest associated with contracting by Sellafield Limited with NMP’s affiliate companies.”

Will the Secretary of State confirm how much was spent on that advice from KPMG by the NDA, which reports to him—advice that was then ignored and, it seems, is now being adopted?

In February last year, the PAC reported that even after the contract was extended with NMP, it

“has not provided the clear leadership, strong management and improved capabilities needed to deliver the performance required at the site.”

Fifteen months on from having overseen that contract extension, why have the Government come to the conclusion that it was the wrong decision? Will the right hon. Gentleman describe the immediate arrangements for the 10,000 people employed at Sellafield, and tell us what impact today’s decision will have on the running of other sites? Will this create the need for a review of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s other operations, where similar contracts that might give poor value for the taxpayer could still be in place?

Can the Secretary of State clarify why this announcement was extensively trailed in the press last night and this morning, rather than being made in the first instance before the House today? Is it not the case that what we have seen today is a frantic U- turn, an abandonment of the extension of a contract and the reversal of a decision that should probably never have been taken in the first place? Does the Secretary of State not appreciate that such casual disregard for the evidence and conclusions of the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee has resulted in wasted time and public money and may risk a loss of confidence in the important decommissioning work at Sellafield? Does he acknowledge that insufficient care and due regard were taken by the Ministers in his Department who have ultimate responsibility for these matters? Does this not eloquently make the case against part-time, part-time energy Ministers and is it not now time that the Secretary of State got a grip, stopped playing stupid inter-coalition games and got his dysfunctional and misfiring Department into shape?

The hon. Gentleman was doing quite well until his peroration. I will explain why it was a big political mistake for him to go down that route, but first I shall answer his specific questions, because they were important. He began by praising the staff, and I agree that they deserve huge praise because they are tackling one of the most difficult and dangerous jobs in Britain today. I can confirm that their terms and conditions are not affected by this at all. There will be full discussion with work force representatives. At this point, I should like to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Copeland (Mr Reed), who has worked assiduously on this issue.

The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West asked why we allowed the contract continuation in 2013, given the findings in the National Audit Office’s report of weaknesses in it. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority recommended that the contract be continued, and we had to endorse that recommendation. It was not a question of approving it; we endorsed it. At that time, when I looked at the structure that we had inherited from the last Government, I was concerned about the model. It was the model that I started asking questions about, and it is the model that has been reviewed. I have already explained a little about the review process; it is the model that we feel needs changing for the long term.

The hon. Gentleman asked why there was no alternative solution. The contract renewal process looked at the performance, which had not been good enough, but it is worth putting on record the fact that the performance of Nuclear Management Partners since the contract renewal has improved significantly, so this decision has not been taken on account of the performance of NMP. If we look at its performance over the past year, we can see that it has delivered on things that no one has delivered on for years. For example, the sludge-packing plant, which is needed to take out the toxic sludge from B30—a pond that has been there for decades—has now been commissioned and is ready for operation. That is a big achievement and I pay tribute to NMP for that. The decision has not been taken on account of performance; it has been taken because Ministers and the NDA questioned the model that we inherited from the last Government. We then put in place a proper review of that model.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the termination fees, and I can tell him that they are very low. The mechanisms under the current contract allow for termination and appropriate fee awards of less than 1% of the annual fee, and those mechanisms will be adhered to. Of course, during the transition, NMP will earn the fees that it would normally earn under the existing contract while it is still carrying out the work, but the termination fee is very small.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the cost to the NDA of the KPMG report. I do not have that figure with me but I would be happy to write to him about that. He also mentioned the parent body organisation model that we are getting rid of at Sellafield, and asked whether we should get rid of it elsewhere. Our argument is that we should not. Let me explain why Sellafield is different.

At other nuclear power plants that are being decommissioned, such as Dounreay, the PBO model is working well. At Dounreay and other decommissioning sites, it is easy to specify the performance, the activities and the outcomes that are required. Those requirements are more certain and clear, and therefore easier to contract for. At Sellafield, because it is so complicated and because of the huge uncertainties about some of the materials that they are trying to clear up, it is very difficult to do that. Those huge uncertainties make the risks of contracting much more difficult, which is why the PBO structure needs to go there but not elsewhere.

The hon. Gentleman asked why the announcement was trailed in the press. I am afraid that it was not, and I am pleased that it was not, but there was some sort of leak. I do not know where that came from. He then suggested that this was a frantic U-turn, which is complete rubbish. We have been working on the issue carefully and diligently for some time. The NDA set up a review of the model, which I think was required. It made recommendations to officials who looked at them and made recommendations to Ministers and we have been looking at them for some time. Indeed, I asked questions when I got the initial recommendations to ensure that during the transition any risks were properly mitigated and I was not prepared to take the decision until I saw a proper risk mitigation plan for the transfer.

Ministers have been involved in the process, and given that the hon. Gentleman made a political point at the end of his peroration, let me make a political point back to him. These contracts and this model were drawn up under the previous Labour Government. The contract came into effect when the Leader of the Opposition was doing my job, so the hon. Gentleman should be addressing his questions about the model and the contract to the Leader of the Opposition, his own party leader. Once again, we have had to clear up the mess left by the Labour party.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s emphasis on safety and value for money in making this decision and his clear explanation of the difference between Sellafield, with its difficult history and unique circumstances, and the other sites where this work takes place. In the light of what he has just said, is it his view that this model was never appropriate for Sellafield, given its unusual situation, whereas it might be working perfectly satisfactorily elsewhere?

I must say that when I first saw the diagram of the model I expressed great surprise and asked why someone had come up with such a model. That is why questions were asked to review it. The NDA and others involved were perplexed about why they had been given the model in the first place as Sellafield is a complicated site. Let us be clear that in the past year NMP has significantly improved its performance, so the model can have some success. The key strategic question is whether, given the lessons we have learned from the operation of that model for Sellafield and given its complexities, this is the right model to ensure effectiveness and value for money. We concluded that it was not and that is why we are changing it.

To give credit where it is due, this decision was actually made by the Department of Trade and Industry some time ago and predates the Department of Energy and Climate Change, so it had nothing to do with the Leader of the Opposition.

I thank the Secretary of State for his announcement today and the shadow Minister for how he has raised these issues. With continued Sellafield operations and the imminent construction of new nuclear reactors, west Cumbria has the potential to become one of the fastest-growing sub-regional economies anywhere in the United Kingdom. Removing NMP from the Sellafield contract and changing the operating model of the site will mean that significant additional financial resource is now made available. This is public money and must be used carefully. Consequently, the terms and conditions of the Sellafield work force must be protected—I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment on that—and NMP’s socio-economic commitments to my community must as a minimum be honoured. In addition, the 15-month transitional arrangement must be undertaken in a practical and consensual fashion, and changing the operating model should also make it possible better to maximise existing commercial operations and pursue new ones. Will the Secretary of State commit to meet me and work force and community representatives to ensure that today’s announcement contributes towards those ambitions?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that speech and I agreed with almost every word of it. I am not sure that I agreed with the bit at the beginning, where he was trying to scapegoat the DTI. We will work with the work force, local representatives such as the hon. Gentleman, all key stakeholders and the regulators to bring this plan to fruition. It represents better value for money and will deliver what we need to deliver at Sellafield more quickly.

This decision will not come as a great surprise to anybody who understands the legacy, complexity and size of Sellafield. The key requirement for any contract is the scoping beforehand, and that is particularly difficult at Sellafield. On the PBO at Dounreay, where considerable scoping was possible prior to laying the contract, will my right hon. Friend assure me and all those who work so well and effectively at Dounreay that, notwithstanding the slight adjustments currently being made, that contract is working well and his Department has full confidence in the NDA, the contract and the workers at Dounreay?

When I visited Dounreay I was incredibly impressed by its work force and management team and I know how much my right hon. Friend has been supporting them over a considerable period. I can give him the reassurances he seeks. The contract with the PBO has worked because it has been easier to specify the scope, as my right hon. Friend rightly pointed out. As a result, significant efficiencies have been made and significant savings to the taxpayer have been accrued, so the PBO model has worked well on that site.

May I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Mr Reed) for his leadership? He has been calling for this decision for some time. Will the Secretary of State assure us that he will work with my hon. Friend and the community to ensure that the change in management structure properly gives the area an opportunity to use the incredible civil nuclear engineering expertise available in west and south Cumbria to reach out to new markets and create new growth opportunities?

I think the change will help those objectives. Of course, it is not the only measure; a number of other measures need to come together to deliver for the economy of west Cumbria.

This is clearly a significant development not just for west Cumbria, but for other parts of Cumbria, including my constituency. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the change will not in any way affect the prospects of a new nuclear build at Sellafield?

In 2008, I had an Adjournment debate to point out that the huge costs and risk of the operation would be borne by the taxpayer and not by the private company. It was a mistake to start the operation and a mistake to renew it, but it is also a mistake not to learn the lesson. Have not the Government just risked another £10 billion as a gift to a foreign company at Hinkley Point and agreed a price for electricity that will continue, guaranteed, for 35 years? Again, the public bear the risk and the cost, and private people from abroad—from China and France—will take the profit.

Let me try to agree with something the hon. Gentleman said. The costs of decommissioning are huge. Two thirds of my Department’s budget goes towards decommissioning nuclear power stations from the past and dealing with that legacy, so we need to think about value for money as we do that vital work safely. That is one of the reasons that, with the new nuclear programme, it is vital that the contracts and prices we agree include the costs of decommissioning and waste management, and they do.

The Secretary of State has made it clear that there will be no redundancies at Sellafield Ltd in Cumbria or Warrington. Does his migration plan identify any redundancies in AMEC, URS or AREVA, and what is the time scale for his appointing a strategic partner to assist the programme?

We, and particularly the NDA on the ground, will be strongly working with the NMP and its consortium bodies. The exact time scale for the appointment of a new supplier organisation is yet to be determined, because this is the beginning of what is likely to be a 15-month transition. My hon. Friend asks me to speculate on issues that have not yet finally been addressed, so I am afraid I am not able to give him the specific answer he requires. I can tell him, however, that the NDA will be working very closely with the NMP to manage the process smoothly.

I visited the Sellafield site at the end of October to see the scope for storing submarine reactors; obviously, I will seek clarification from the Ministry of Defence about the time scale for that. I was impressed by the calibre of the locally developed management tier, including the head of operations, Andrew Hope. Will the Secretary of State reassure the House that the world-class work force will be supported and enabled, so that nationally important projects can proceed?

Yes, I can give the hon. Gentleman that reassurance. Members from both sides of the House have voiced support for the staff and the need to ensure that they get all the training required and that information about the change is properly conveyed to them. I believe that the staff will support the changes.

I visited Sellafield with the Public Accounts Committee in 2012 and was struck by the difficulty of challenging those who say that the issues involved require vast expenditure over vast time scales. Recently, there have been a significant number of vacancies on the NDA board. Is the Secretary of State satisfied with the experience and management independence of the NDA, and what is he doing to ensure that it delivers the scrutiny and challenge that it should deliver?

The NDA has approached some of its key decisions incredibly professionally, including the renewal of the contract and the review of the model that led to the recommendation to me for the change under discussion. I pay tribute to the NDA for the work it has done. It will, of course, be taking on a bigger role in the new model, so it will need to skill up, hire more expertise and fill the vacancies referred to by my hon. Friend. That was part of the questioning that I and others undertook to ensure that the transition process and the resulting process are successful.

Obviously, we need to deal with the cost of legacy waste, but as well as announcing the change in the contract the NDA has announced an increase in the estimated cost of cleaning up the site, which now comes to a staggering £110 billion over 120 years. Given those figures and that time scale, how can the Secretary of State possibly give the assurance he gave to the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) that the costs of new nuclear will be met by the companies, which may well not be around in anything like 120 years?

Let us be clear that those costs relate to decommissioning the legacy waste. In answer to the hon. Member for Newport West, I was referring to the negotiations with EDF and its partners on the strike price for the new build at Hinkley Point C. That will include the cost of decommissioning, so that is in the price. Legislation went through this House under the previous Government to set up the nuclear liabilities fund and to ensure that it is independent and ring-fenced so that the moneys that go into it are properly managed. We have done a huge amount of work to ensure that that ring-fenced resource will grow and meet the future decommissioning costs.

Which international comparators of decommissioning governance structures were used before arriving at this decision?

I wish there were some to look at. Sellafield is unique and if my hon. Friend can point me to a similar site, I will visit it.

The great thing about a National Audit Office report is that it is consensually agreed between the Department and the NAO. I am afraid that rather disproves the points that the Secretary of State has tried to make. He tried to locate the original plan in 2008 under the now Leader of the Opposition, but the report says that the previous plan was designed in 2007. The Secretary of State called this the revised plan, but the NAO report is very clear that, in fact, the

“Authority accepted the revised plan in May 2011”,

so this is a revision of the revision that his predecessor approved. Finally, the report was produced in 2012, when the Secretary of State was in post, and states that there were significant uncertainties back then. Why did he not act on the uncertainties that he agreed with the NAO existed then and work up an improvement for the time break in the contract?

I think the hon. Gentleman is planning for a future career as a regius professor in which he has an attentive audience, no interruption and can expatiate at a length of his own choice. We shall see what happens.

Mr Speaker, I think I understood what you just said.

I must tell the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) that he possibly should have listened a little more carefully to what I said. The original contract was engaged with and drawn up by the Minister who preceded the Leader of the Opposition, but it came into force when the right hon. Gentleman was doing my job.

The issue we have looked at is that of the model, which was designed under the previous Government and which we inherited. The contract that the hon. Gentleman talked about was looked at and then rolled forward, but the issue at stake is the model. We are changing the model of the management structure for the better, because the one we inherited was complex and expensive.

The Secretary of State says that the termination fee following his decision was low, so how much was it in cash terms? Again, what was the cost of the important KPMG report?

On the final point, I have said that I will write to the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex); I do not have that figure with me. On the cash figure, I will write to the hon. Gentleman with the precise amount. I gave it in percentage terms—it is 1% of the annual fee—but I believe that it is less than £500,000 in cash terms. I put on the record that I will need to clarify that in writing.

The Public Accounts Committee characterised the lack of speed in decommissioning at Sellafield in terms of missed targets, escalating costs, slipping deadlines and weak leadership. How confident is the Secretary of State that the new model will accelerate decommissioning, cleaning up the legacy waste and dealing with the ponds that presented problems last year?

The hon. Lady is right that performance at Sellafield has been mixed—we would not have taken the decision if it had all been going terribly well—but I repeat what I have already told the House, which is that performance improved significantly last year. That is why the focus is on the model. She asked whether we believe that the model will improve performance, and we absolutely do: it will reduce costs and improve the effectiveness of management on that complex site.

What measures is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that the process, particularly for the selection of the strategic partner for Sellafield Ltd, will be proof against a repetition of elements of the fiasco we have heard about today?

The different model will ensure that the involvement of the private sector is far more effective and, indeed, more cost-effective. The NDA is obviously responsible for the selection of the strategic partner. The model is now much simpler and is in line with best practice for procurement for such complex operations. That is why I made the analogy with Crossrail and with the Olympics in my answer to the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West. The Olympics was a very complicated project, and Crossrail is a very complicated one, while Sellafield is the most complex industrial site in Europe. Given the complexity of the operations, it does not really make sense to have the complex model set up under the previous Government, and that is why we have taken this decision.

Given the criticisms of the NAO and the PAC, is the Secretary of State really telling us that he knew there were concerns about the model, but did not think that he could change it? Will he explain what monitoring procedures he and the then Minister with responsibility for energy, the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), put in place to keep a close eye on the company? Will he tell us what meetings they had, what figures they required and what evidence they wanted from the very beginning of the process for renewing the contract?

To be clear, the renewal of the contract was the NDA’s decision, which we endorsed. When we endorsed it, we obviously asked the chief executive, the chairman and the board of the NDA some serious questions, including about the model, and that led to the review of the model and to today’s statement.

In relation to the renewal of the ongoing contract, I of course met executives from the NMP. I cannot give the hon. Lady details of all the meetings that my Ministers or I had. I am happy to write to her about them; there is nothing secret about them. The key thing was to ensure that the contract renewal covered improved performance during the ongoing review of the model, and the facts show that performance has improved.

Three of the world’s top 10 engineering challenges are at Sellafield. As other hon. Members have said, it is a very complex site. Will the Secretary of State ensure that he and his fellow Ministers undertake very complex monitoring to make sure that the value-for-money challenges identified by the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee do not slip again? I mean value for money in not just the cost of the contract but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) said, the impact on the supply chain, because Sellafield should not deaden the local market, but build it and help it to thrive.

I certainly agree with the hon. Lady that the project on the site is hugely complicated. Anyone who visits it can see that for themselves. I should tell her, however, that the prime responsibility for managing it lies with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. The NDA was quite rightly set up under the previous Government—with cross-party support—and we believe that it is the right model.

The NDA needs to be involved in all local decisions. It would not be very sensible for that to be managed by Ministers and officials in Whitehall—the NDA is on the front line—but it is the job of Ministers and, indeed, this House to hold the NDA to account. We do that through regular reports and through the officials who regularly work with the NDA, and the House does it through the Energy and Climate Change Committee and the Public Accounts Committee.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) mentioned, the French company AREVA, which is part of the NMP consortium, also has a very big interest in Hinkley Point. I know that the sites are very different, but will the Secretary of State use this opportunity to give assurances that the challenges and risks talked about today have been fully addressed at Hinkley Point?

The risks are very different in all senses of the word. The new build at Hinkley Point C has already undergone huge regulatory processes. There is the time needed for the generic design assessment for a new nuclear reactor—in this case, for the EPR reactor, it took three years—and then regulatory approvals are needed for the site itself. The regulatory oversight of the new build at HPC is therefore of a very different nature. However, it is certainly extremely detailed, and I hope that that gives her the assurance she seeks.