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A sensible leave of absence

My congratulations to Dr Timothy Stone. Who is Dr Stone, you ask? He has been the head of global infrastructure at consultancy firm KPMG. And is the man chosen by (shortly to be former) DTI Secretary Alistair Darling, to look after the entire nuclear clean-up.
Or to give the task its more formal title, to oversee “arrangements for the costs of new build, decommissioning and waste management.” And with clean-up costs alone now estimated to be well over £70,000m, he will have quite a task before him.
This month’s much delayed Energy White Paper repeats the government’s volte face on nuclear. Having spent the previous nine years bad-mouthing anything to do with the Great God Atom, last summer New Labour suddenly got religion, and declared itself in favour of lots of new nukes.
But with one crucial condition. Any new power stations must not only be built and run by the private sector, these private operators must be prepared to pick up the tab for handling all the consequent costs.
That is the brief Dr Stone has. Were he to fulfil it to the letter, it would undoubtedly infuriate his former colleagues at KPMG. At present, the consultancy makes millions from advising the different parts of the nuclear industry.
For instance, last year the firm won an award for its work on the sale by British Nuclear Fuels of its construction subsidiary, Westinghouse to Toshiba. Working it has to be said for the purchasers. In the judges’ words, “KPMG Corporate Finance used its contacts with the UK Government and BNFL to market (sic) the Japanese player.”
Wisely Dr Stone has not become a full-time civil servant to carry out his new duties. Instead, he has simply taken leave of absence from his former employers. Really, the last thing a consultancy like KPMG wants is somebody intervening on behalf of the UK government, trying to ensure all the relevant nuclear costs are carried by the private sector. I am sure that Dr Stone will bear that particular concern in mind in his new, temporary, role.


Gordon keeps it in the family

In his current seven week round tour of the UK, prior to becoming our prime minister, Gordon Brown has endlessly stressed how ‘family friendly’ his new administration would be. That will come as excellent news for the nuclear industry.
Take for instance Andrew Brown, younger brother of the aforesaid Gordon, who is chief spin doctor (whoops, press officer) for EDF Energy. Which has long been the only electricity company prepared to openly champion new nuclear stations. Possibly to do with being French-owned, and therefore heavily subsidised by the French state?
Or take Tony Cooper, the father-in-law of Brown’s right hand man Ed Balls, effectively our new deputy prime minister. A former general secretary of Prospect, covering employees in nuclear power stations, Cooper is still very active within the TUC, plugging away on the pro-nuke cause. And who should the present construction minister be? Step forward Yvette Copper, Tony’s daughter.
All that is needed now is for Sir Bernard Ingham, the one person member of SONE, Supporters of Nuclear Energy, to declare himself as Brown’s long-lost uncle, and the Happy Family pack will be complete.


Planning for the future

When a Minister creates a public body to award lucrative contracts to the private sector, he or she will of course never be giving any thought as to whether they might be able to benefit from such contacts when they leave office.
Take Brian Wilson, for instance. When, as energy minister in 2000, he set up the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, it will never have crossed his mind that it might be advantageous to any private sector company bidding for such contracts to have an ex- energy minister on its board.
So it is of course as complete a surprise to him, as to everybody else, to learn the construction company Amec is bidding for clean-up contracts from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Well, perhaps not quite as much of a surprise to Wilson as everybody else. Just a few months before the bid was made, Wilson joined the Amec board of directors.


Gas suppliers ignored by Ofgem compensation scheme

Any electricity consumer who spots a billing mistake, is entitled to £20 compensation from their supplier, if the matter is not dealt with speedily. The compensation kicks in if the supplier has not made a “substantive response”, known as an ESG10, to a query on charges and payments within five working days.
At least, that is true if you have remained with your initial electricity supplier. Quaintly, Ofgem only insists upon such compensation being available to those who reside within the suppliers’ home market. At a time when Ofgem seems to believe the main value of its drive to deliver ‘competitive markets’ is the number of households who switch suppliers, this restriction seems utterly bizarre.
But not as bizarre as the compensation levels required for those who find they have been incorrectly billed for their gas consumption. There is absolutely no requirement for Centrica, or indeed anybody else, to provide any such recompense at all.
I do not understand why this occurs. I do think Ofgem should explain.