Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Sellafield's scandalous mismanagement partnership exposed

Yesterday the media reported the Coalition Government decision to cancel the (mis-) management contract for Sellafield held by Nuclear Management Partners. The Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, astonishingly told MPs in Parliament that NMP "we endorsed the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s decision to roll the current Parent Body Organisation (PBO) contract forward into the second term (from 1 April 2014) to ensure that the progress made in the first five year term could be built upon."

And former energy minister Michael Fallon, since elevated to Defence Secretary to reflect his acute judgment, told Labour MP Paul Flynn 11 months ago, in response to the question "for what reasons his Department supported the five-year contract award to Nuclear Management Partners to manage the Sellafield site." that  "the decision to continue with the contract into a second five year period, was an operational matter for the NDA. The NDA reached its decision based on a thorough review of performance in the first period of the contract and consideration of all available options. The Government endorsed the NDA's decision on the basis that it represents the best way forward at this time, giving NMP the opportunity to build on the progress made in the first five years of its contract for Sellafield Ltd "
(Hansard,) 24 Feb 2014 : Column 142W)

Nobody told the truth behind this scandalous contract, that has bled the UK taxpayer for the past six years, and was awarded demonstrably corruptly. Below explains what happened.

MPs were denied the chance to challenge sweetener to private firm's nuclear deal

Top civil servants and nuclear administrators colluded to prevent MPs from challenging a massive sweetener to a private business taking over the running of Sellafield, internal documents in the hands of The Independent on Sunday reveal.

The documents, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, also disclose that the Government pushed through the handover at breakneck speed because it feared that the "unstable management arrangements" of the controversial Cumbrian nuclear complex risked its safety.
Yesterday, a leading Labour MP announced that he would try to get a parliamentary investigation into the revelations in the documents, which run to 140 pages and had been so heavily censored prior to release that many whole pages, and the names of most of the officials involved, have been systematically blanked out. Paul Flynn MP, a member of the House of Commons Public Administration Committee – which examines the performance of the Civil Service – is to ask it to inquire into what he calls "an egregious example of obstruction of parliamentary accountability".
The cover-up arises from the awarding, late in November, of a contract to run the nuclear complex to Nuclear Management Partners, a consortium of US, French and British companies. Although the contract is worth some £22bn, the consortium told ministers that it would walk away from the deal unless it was fully indemnified against the costs of cleaning up an accident at what is one of the world's most hazardous nuclear sites.
Normally, as the documents repeatedly acknowledge, the Government would place a special minute before Parliament if it intended to undertake a liability of more than £250,000. MPs would then have 14 days to raise an objection, which would stop the undertaking going ahead until it had been dealt with. But MPs were not told about the Sellafield indemnity until 75 days after the last moment when they could object, even though it potentially exposes the taxpayer to liabilities running into billions.
The energy minister Mike O'Brien blames a "clerical oversight" for this. But the documents clearly show that the senior civil servants and nuclear administrators had been actively discussing how to limit MPs' chance to object at least since early last year.
The documents have come to light only as a result of persistent pressure from Dr David Lowry, an independent environmental policy and research consultant, who is a member of Nuclear Waste Advisory Associates. The documents make it clear that the Government was determined to hurry through the handover of operations at Sellafield as quickly as possible because of what one of them calls "the current unstable management arrangements overseeing these extremely sensitive sites, and their high hazard inventories". Another adds that this instability "constitutes a genuine risk to health, safety and environmental performance" at the complex.
A rushed timetable was drawn up which involved naming a preferred bidder for the contract on 11 July and signing a transitional agreement on 6 October. But this clashed with the long parliamentary summer recess, which ran from late July to the very day set aside for the signing.
If the Government were to stick to its speeded-up timetable, the documents say, "the very earliest date" in which the minute could be laid before Parliament would be 14 July, shortly before the recess began on the 22nd.
Determined not to slow down the handover, the Government decided to reduce the period in which MPs could object. On 26 March, an official whose name and department has been blanked out emailed the official Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) to stress the requirement to "shorten the 14 working parliamentary days that an indemnity would normally need before it can become effective".
The official added: "To get this down to five days, we will need to muster some persuasive arguments and I wondered where you had got to on assembling these." Two days later he was sent a "first draft" of the argument including an assertion that the "vulnerability of Sellafield operations is already seen as a significant safety risk".
But by early June, the idea of giving MPs any time at all to object had been abandoned. Another email to the NDA, from apparently the same blanked-out official, reported a "conclusion" that a letter should merely be written to Edward Leigh MP, the chairman of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, "rather than go for a shorter notice period to the House".
A minute "explaining what has happened" would be laid before MPs only "when Parliament reconvenes in the autumn", by which time it would be too late to raise objections. On 14 July, the then energy minister Malcolm Wicks duly wrote to Mr Leigh; he did not object and the indemnity went into force before MPs knew about it.
In his letter, Mr Wicks assured Mr Leigh that he was placing a copy of the letter and the minute in "the libraries of the house". In fact this did not happen until 15 October, 75 days after the final date on which MPs could raise an objection. Mr O'Brien, who succeeded Mr Wicks, blamed "a minor error by a junior official", but later conceded that his department had not checked for three months whether the documents had reached the libraries.
Mr Flynn says that he and other MPs had already been raising questions about the indemnity and would have been likely to raise objections, and accuse the Government of trying to push it through "without anyone noticing".

 Early day motion 1048

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  • Session: 2012-13
  • Date tabled: 06.02.2013
  • Primary sponsor: Flynn, Paul
That this House notes that the Public Accounts Committee states that it is not convinced that taxpayers are getting a good deal from the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency's (NDA) plans; believe that these enormous costs need to be strictly controlled by robust, verified assessments of the sums involved, so that payments are not made which would seem to constitute a reward for failure; recalls that when the contract was awarded in October 2008, Ministers at the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) were questioned on the probity of such huge sums being awarded without Parliamentary scrutiny; recalls EDM 2321 on Parliamentary Oversight of Sellafield Indemnification tabled on 22 October 2008 observed accurately that the agreement would privatise the profits of the Sellafield management contract leaving the potentially multi-billion pound liabilities with taxpayers; acknowledges the subsequent release of internal memoranda and emails between DECC and NDA officials which expose the deliberate cover up from Parliament; and now invites current Ministers at the DECC to explain why Nuclear Management Partners have made such a pig's ear of the task of managing Sellafield safely and within budget.

Early day motion 2321



  • Session: 2007-08
  • Date tabled: 22.10.2008
  • Primary sponsor: Flynn, Paul
  • Sponsors:

That this House notes that when the Government decided to provide indemnification against insurance claims following nuclear accident at the Low-level Waste Repository at Drigg, for the new American management company, the then Minister for Energy published a written statement in Hansard of 27th February 2008 and the associated Minute was placed in the Library to allow 14 sitting days for objections from hon. Members; contrasts this open procedure with the approach adopted for a similar insurance indemnification for the new private sector management company for Sellafield, Nuclear Management Partners, when no written statement was placed before Parliament but instead, the then Minister for Energy wrote on 14th July 2008 to the chairmen of the Committee on Public Accounts and Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Committee, enclosing a copy of the Minute setting out the proposed arrangements and stating that a copy of the Minute would be placed in the Library; further notes that this Minute arrived in the Library on 14th October, more than 75 days after the period for hon. Members to object officially elapsed; believes it is unacceptable for hon. Members to be denied the opportunity to comment on this Minute, the effect of which is to privatise the profits of the Sellafield management contract leaving the potentially multi-billion pound liabilities with taxpayers; declines to give approval to the proposed indemnification arrangements; and calls upon the Government to reopen the period in which hon. Members may signify objections to Government guarantees for which no statutory authority exists

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