Monday, September 26, 2005

Birt reported to be seeking 300,000 pounds nuclear power job

Guardian Unlimited Politics | Whitehall | Birt reported to be seeking �300,000 nuclear power job: "Birt reported to be seeking �300,000 nuclear power job"

David Hencke, Westminster correspondent
Monday September 26, 2005
The Guardian

John Birt, the prime minister's unpaid adviser, is reportedly seeking a £300,000 a year job as head of one of the world's biggest uranium enrichment companies.
The Anglo-Dutch-German company Urenco owns one of Britain's nuclear enrichment research plants in Capenhurst, Cheshire, and is bidding for a licence to open a nuclear enrichment plant in the US.

Lord Birt appears to have applied to become chairman of Urenco after leaving his paid post with management consultants McKinsey. This followed suggestions that he could be perceived to have a conflict of interest because a number of its consultants were advising ministers, particularly after one consultant, David Bennett, became chief policy adviser to Tony Blair.

Lord Birt, who is known to support the controversial policy of expanding nuclear power, would join the company at a crucial time.
His position in government has been controversial ever since he left the BBC, where his costcutting made him unpopular with many staff.

He always keeps his advice to the prime minister confidential, but it has been known to upset senior civil servants, particularly in the Home Office and the Department for Transport, where he made a number of controversial proposals. These included policies on defeating crime by actively targeting the worst 100,000 criminals in Britain and backing a private high-speed rail link from London to Edinburgh.

Urenco is seeking a bigger role for nuclear power now that oil and other fossil fuels are beginning to run out and there are growing concerns about global warming. It already has nearly 20% of the world market and if it gets a licence to build a US plant it will be a big player in supplying uranium in America.

The company is also at the forefront of the technology used to enrich uranium and has a stake in an energy company in Louisiana.

Part of the state-owned assets of the company is due to be privatised, which could bring a windfall for its six directors. The directors' package already includes performance bonuses, which can be worth up to half their salaries, a final salary pensions scheme, private health insurance and a company car.

Downing Street yesterday denied reports in the Mail on Sunday that the prime minister was pushing Lord Birt for the job to replace the present British chairman, Neville Chamberlain.

A spokeswoman said she was "unaware of the application".

The Cabinet Office said it was up to the company to comment on the application but there was no one available at Urenco's British headquarters in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, to discuss it.

Lord Birt never confirms or denies any story written about him.


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