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Monday, 21 April 2014

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Sellafield bosses apologise to taxpayers over failings

SELLAFIELD’S management has apologised to the taxpayer over failings on the nuclear site.

Tom Zarges, the chair of Nuclear Management Partners (NMP) – the consortium that runs the site – said that he is “humbled and truly sorry” for mistakes made during his firm’s five-year tenure at Sellafield, and vowed that they will not be repeated in the future.

Criticisms levelled at the site’s management include soaring costs, projects behind schedule and an alleged lack of leadership.

Mr Zarges was joined at last Wednesday’s hearing by John Clarke (chief executive of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority) and Tony Price (managing director of Sellafield Ltd) to answer criticisms as part of an ongoing review by the influential Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The committee’s chair, MP Margaret Hodge, said she was “bewildered” the NDA had recently awarded NMP a five-year extension to run the nuclear site.

“This is a massive contract worth billions of pounds,” she said. “It is imperative in the public interest that we seek to get the best value.”

Mr Zarges said: “While we have had achievements, we are not satisfied with these. We are a long way from satisfied.”

Mr Clarke conceded that he has been “disappointed with elements of NMP’s performance.”

Mrs Hodges accepted that NMP has improved safety on the site, but challenged Mr Zarges “to name another thing that is going well”.

Mr Zarges spoke of the site’s “unprecedented” challenges, the scale of which NMP was unaware of when it took over in 2008.

The PAC highlighted a number of shortcomings identified in report by auditing firm KPMG.

Mrs Hodge said: “Mega-bucks are paid to NMP in fees, yet NMP does nothing [to address issues] other than waiting for the NDA to chivvy you along.”

Mr Zarges denied that NMP acts only when prompted by the NDA. He said: “We both respond to the NDA, and take proactive action when required.

“We are making progress in areas in which shortfalls have been identified.”

In terms of leadership, Mrs Hodge raised concern that Mr Price is the fourth managing director of Sellafield Ltd in the last five years.

She added: “There is a pattern of poor, inconsistent leadership.”

Mr Price said: “I fully understand my responsibility to the taxpayer and to the client.”

Mr Zarges responded that there are “now key people in place to take on the next phase of the Sellafield mission”.

Mr Clarke added: “The quality of leadership has been less than what we would wish for, and we have been disappointed with elements of performance.

“But to continue with the contract will provide a better outcome than the alternatives.”

Further concern was raised by the committee about the “overuse” of seconding staff from elsewhere to work in Cumbria, and a number of “inadequately explained” expenses claims.

The committee sought assurances that costs and project lengths will not continue to soar.

Mr Price said: “There have been disappointments – and we will learn from the mistakes – but there have been some successes that can be built on. We can rebuild confidence and trust.”

Mr Zarges added: “If we have not learned from these experiences, we are not doing our job.”

Following the hearing, a Sellafield Ltd spokesperson said: “We are pleased to have had the opportunity to address the PAC.

While sessions like this are always challenging, we welcome the level of scrutiny, which is entirely appropriate given the level of public funding being spent to tackle the UK’s nuclear legacy at Sellafield.

“The challenges we face are complex, and we have had some difficulties – much of which are down to inherited conditions. However, the commitment we have to achieving our mission of safely and securely managing Sellafield, while cleaning up our nation’s nuclear legacy is unwavering.

“We can move forward now, having learned much over the past five years, into perhaps the most important phase of the site’s history, when waste retrievals from some of our oldest plants can begin, and we can make demonstrable progress with decommissioning them.”

Following the hearing, Copeland MP Jamie Reed has welcomed the acknowledgement, adding that Mr Price has his “full support”.

Have your say

Well done Margaret Hodge, but Zarges and the NMP seem to have got off lightly. What about possible breach of contract compensation, penalty clauses etc? If NMP have under-delivered, as they admit, then the taxpayer should be recompensed surely? It's all very well saying lessons have been learned and it won't happen again, but NMP should pay for their incompetence.

Posted by David Scameron on 14 December 2013 at 11:48

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