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Energy: Nuclear Decommissioning Authority

Volume 696: debated on Wednesday 14 November 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

When they expect to announce the name of the new chairman of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that Ministers have known about this post since February and knew that a new chairman would have to be appointed in the summer? Is he further aware that in April the two-days-a-week post was advertised at £80,000 a year, but no suitable candidates came forward? The post was readvertised in September, offering two and a half times as much—£200,000 a year. I am grateful to the Minister’s office for letting me see the advertisements. Did the Treasury impose the original limit of £80,000? Can the noble Lord, Lord Jones, claim the credit for making it see sense?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving me credit that I do not deserve. He is right that my office let him have the advertisements, which I am looking at now. We did not get enough volume of good candidates from which to make an informed and inspired choice. We advertised again, as he rightly said, offering £200,000 a year instead of £80,000, for two days a week. That has attracted many more candidates.

My Lords, I understand salary levels in the private sector, as noble Lords will understand. From that wider pool, we hope to get someone who can take on a far wider, more detailed and more important brief, as this hugely important subject rightly goes forward in the glare of public scrutiny.

My Lords, what volume of candidates did the post attract the first time around? Was the lack of candidates due to the woeful shortage of experts in the field?

My Lords, I assure noble Lords that under the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, the rules do not allow me to discuss such things in public. However, we are confident that the appointment in January will come from a much wider pool.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that while private negotiations on the salary were going on, work was being done by the NDA on a business plan, which was published in the past few days and is 66 pages long? Oddly, it was published as a consultative document on many matters that would have been better dealt with in-house. Will he comment on what has happened in the past few days?

My Lords, those negotiations, as my noble friend put it, about changes in salary levels were not negotiations, and they were certainly not in private as far as my office was concerned. We are trying to set the market rate for the job to be done. We hope that we will get a much wider pool to apply, and we are pretty certain of that. I am not intimately involved in the business plan, nor do I have enough information to give him the proper answer that his question deserves. I promise that I will get back to him with an answer.

My Lords, as a former Member of Parliament for the area that will enjoy a considerable proportion of the budget of this organisation, can I be assured that the person selected to do this job will be recognised through the nuclear industry as competent to do it on the basis of their previous experience?

My Lords, last winter the noble Lord warned that if there were a cold snap,

“businesses will shut down, people will lose their jobs”.

He called for action to sort out our “decrepit supply system”. What, if anything, has changed in the past year?

My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that one thing has changed—actually, it was the year before; she is accurate in what she says, but she is one year out. Business was extremely worried about supply and about making sure that if we had a cold winter the lights would stay on. I am delighted to report to noble Lords that this winter that situation is being averted. It is two years on from when I made the remark. I am glad that I made it, because it woke a few people up. I think it had the desired result.

My Lords, given the noble Lord’s experience of the private sector, does he agree that almost invariably there are very long delays before the Government make up their mind on the appointment of major public figures? I suffered from that when I was in the public sector. Could he kindly pass on to those responsible that it would have been far better if they had got on with it quicker and made up their minds sooner on what remuneration had to be offered?

My Lords, I agree. As someone who came into this House to join noble Lords at 24 or 48 hours’ notice, I understand speed. I feel that a far swifter way is needed of bringing talent into other parts of public life. We have one problem—if the process is too speedy it becomes suspicious, unfairly, and then many other vested interests attack the process. Therefore, many people involved in appointments tend to get on the side of caution; that leads to slowness and very much to the objection raised by the noble Lord. He is right in trying to have a more speedy resolution to so many appointments, but he would have to address that to our friends in the media as much as to the Government.

My Lords, in the light of the presumed qualifications of the successful candidate for the chairmanship of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, is it likely that the individual chosen will subsequently be consulted by the Government on the commissioning of new nuclear power stations?

My Lords, I would not have thought for a minute that that will be part of the chairman’s brief, but I do not know specifically. What I do know is that we need a decision to be made on new stations after detailed consultation with the public in all their forms. Only then could we decide whether that issue went into the brief of anybody.