Just six years into what was supposed to be a 17-year deal, estimated to worth some £22Bn, to run the Sellafield site under contract to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), the consortium Nuclear Management Partners (NMP) has been stripped of its contract by Government. The consortium is made up of the US company URS, France’s Areva and Amec (UK). On winning the contract the consortium gave assurances that their combined and unrivalled technical knowhow was more than up to meeting Sellafield’s undoubted challenges.
Hailed by local MP Jamie Reed as ‘the most important contract in West Cumbrian history’ when the lucrative deal was signed in November 2008, NMP became the Sellafield’s Parent Body Organisation and shareholder of site licence company Sellafield Ltd – with responsibility for the site’s day to day operations including reprocessing, decommissioning and clean-up work. At the time of signing, NDA Chairman Stephen Henwood described it as a public sector procurement of vital importance to UK plc that ‘signalled a new relationship between the private and public sector based on partnership delivery’.
The deterioration of that relationship and the lack of delivery grabbed the national headlines following a critical report of progress at Sellafield by the National Audit Office (NAO) in late 2012 and by an even more scathing report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in 2013. The PAC report, to which written evidence was submitted by CORE, followed the earlier and intense grilling of the NDA by the Committee whose chair Margaret Hodge had concluded that the NDA had ‘not been able to demonstrate what value it was getting for the payments made to NMP and Sellafield Limited’.
Renewed scrutiny by PAC of NMP itself – shortly after the highly controversial renewal of its contract (following a 5-year review by the NDA) – together with a damning report by accountants KPMG (which had been kept from the committee by the NDA) , effectively set the scene for NMP’s demise with PAC’s chair concluding that she remained sceptical as to whether, after five years on the site, NMP could improve its performance – a performance she later described as an ‘absolutely appalling waste of public money …it is like scattering confetti’.
The award of the contract to NMP in 2008 never received full local support. Sellafield’s Trades Unions and others saw the consortium’s appointment as an unnecessary and costly extra layer of management at Sellafield that would hinder rather than help the mountainous and toxic challenge posed by the clean-up programme whose cost has since risen to some £70Bn – and still rising. A common complaint levelled at the consortium being the amount of money that found its way back to the US rather than into the local West Cumbrian economy.
In today’s announcement by the Government Minister for Energy & Climate Change, the site licence company Sellafield Ltd is to become a subsidiary of the NDA with the acquisition of a strategic partner from the private sector. The transition to what is described as the search for a ‘better model’ for Sellafield is estimated to take around 15 months.