Between winding down Sellafield and overseeing a £70bn nuclear waste clean-up, the interim legal head of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority Roger Clayson has his hands full. Corinne McPartland reports
”Learning to work for a governmental organisation has been one of the biggest challenges for me,” says the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s (NDA) interim head of legal Roger Clayson. “There’s a lot of red tape involved and I’ve had to try to reverse the commercial mindset I’ve developed while working in the private sector.”
Making the move from being a commercial real estate lawyer in private practice to heading the legal team at the NDA has truly been a learning curve for Clayson.
After joining the authority as a property lawyer in 2006, and then acting as its interim head of legal from 2007, Clayson has had to transform his way of thinking.
“I had to change my mindset completely. Instead of only thinking about the commercial benefits I had to start taking into consideration things such as the public perception of the NDA as well as our stakeholders,” he explains.
Clayson will head the NDA’s legal capability until Robert Higgins of engineering and design consultancy Atkins takes up the post from September 2009.
Since being introduced by the Government back in 2005, the sole purpose of the NDA has been to deliver the decommissioning and clean-up of the UK’s civil nuclear legacy in a safe and cost-effective manner.
Clayson says the NDA aims to achieve this by introducing contractor expertise through a series of competitions, similar to the model used in the US.
“The NDA took ownership of the sites involved, but the operational work itself is carried out by contractors,” explains Clayson.
One of the biggest jobs facing the NDA legal team is the £17bn winding-down of its biggest site, Sellafield. The plot is where, in the 1950s, the UK first developed technology to build an atomic bomb and later built the world’s first commercial nuclear power plant.
A number of organisations have registered interest in the site, including Iberdrola, the Spanish energy giant that owns ScottishPower. The company is reported to be just one bidder among many for the 250-hectare parcel of land adjoining the main Sellafield site in West Cumbria.
The plot, which is expected to raise at least £100m for the Treasury, has been earmarked for the development of a new reactor, which is likely to cost at least £4bn to build. The NDA expects to conclude the sale this year.
“When deciding to sell a piece of land we have to decide on a certain endsight with the stakeholders, such as whether a spot of land will be sold off to use as a greenfield or brownfield site, for example,” says Clayson. “The legal team has to make sure the NDA is legally compliant at every stage to ensure each site is suitable for development.”
But with the NDA’s growing £70bn nuclear waste clean-up programme, Clayson and his team have their hands full. And since his appointment Clayson has taken it upon himself to reshuffle the legal department in a bid to create a slick team that can handle as much work in-house as possible.
“I separated the team into three departments – commercial, property and surveying – so that each team could specialise in one particular area,” he says.
The whole department consists of three solicitors, two chartered surveyors, a chartered company secretary, a trainee legal executive, as well as a trainee surveyor and two administrative assistants. These full-time members are supplemented by two secondees, from Burges Salmon and DLA Piper.
But despite transforming the department, Clayson admits he still has problems getting the authority to use the team to its full capacity.
“Getting ourselves heard in the authority is often a problem. We’re often forgotten about and therefore work that we could do for free is sometimes outsourced because we don’t have a big enough presence,” he says.
To combat this Clayson advertises the department on the NDA’s intranet as well as doing a series of presentations explaining what the legal structure is and how it can be used for employees and new starters.
“I’m really pleased about the amount of progress the legal department’s made over the past few years and I’m sure it will continue to evolve when I go back to heading up the property team,” Clayson adds.
But has his learning curve been worth it? Clayson has no doubt.
“I think to be part of the NDA you have to believe in what it’s doing and what it aims to achieve,” he insists. “And for me that’s been the driving factor.”
Organisation: Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA)
Industry: Public sector, energy
General counsel: Roger Clayson (from September 2009 Robert Higgins)
Reporting to: Commercial director John Clarke
Number of employees: 450
Legal capability: 11
Main external firms: Burges Salmon, Field Fisher Waterhouse, DLA Piper
Legal spend: £3m-£4m
Roger Clayson’s CV
1977-78: LLB, University of Birmingham
1978: LPC, College of Law, Lancaster Gate
1978-80: Trainee, Waller Cheshire & Predko
1980-82: Production control officer, British Aerospace
1982-86: Assistant solicitor, HFT Gough & Co
1986-89: Senior solicitor, Prudential
1990-95: Management solicitor, Pearl
1995-2006: Partner, Fishers Solicitors, Ashby de la Zouch
2006-present: Property lawyer, and from November 2007 interim head of legal, NDA