Hinkley C French twin having problems

No worries – our Local Enterprise Partnership will sort it out … won’t they …?

“EDF Energy has warned that a flagship nuclear power station it is building in France could run further behind schedule and over budget, after it detected faults at the €10.5bn ( £9.2bn) plant.

The French state-owned firm said inspections last month had uncovered problems with welding on pipes at the Flamanville plant in north-west France.

Flamanville’s reactor design is the same as the one being used at a delayed plant in Finland and at Hinkley Point in Somerset, where EDF is building the UK’s first new nuclear power station in decades.

The company said that it had discovered “quality deviations” on 150 welds in a system used to transport steam to turbines used for electricity generation.

EDF said it was performing further checks to see what works would be needed to satisfy the safety requirements of the French nuclear regulator, ASN, and would report back in May.

In a statement, the firm said: “Following the current checks and the licensing process by the ASN, EDF will be able to specify whether the project requires an adjustment to its timetable and its costs.”

The plant is already three times over its original estimates and several years late.

Nuclear industry experts said the announcement cast doubt over whether Flamanville unit three would be operational by the end of 2019, as planned.

Stephen Thomas, professor of energy policy at the University of Greenwich said: “If remedial work is needed, this puts in further doubt whether Flamanville can be in commercial operation [as previously planned].”

ASN warned earlier this year that the start-up schedule for Flamanville was tight.

Paul Dorfman, of the Energy Institute at University College London, said the problems did not bode well for Hinkley Point C, which is due to come online in 2025.

“If they can’t build their own reactor in France, where can they build it? This seems counter to their claims that they are learning from their mistakes and Hinkley won’t be a repeat.”


Productivity, high tech, software development? Look to Cornwall not Devon or Somerset

BBC Spotlight tonight: Cornwall – thanks to its attractive lifestyle and very fast broadband throughout the county from an EU project – is cornering the market in high-tech and software and gaming industries.

Devon – with its special, expensively – developed campuses and industrial areas and its “growth point” – is losing out.

Productivity match: Cornwall 1 – Devon 0

About that doubling of productivity in Devon …

“Ageing workforce a “ticking time bomb” as employers deal with mental and physical frailties”

Local authorities are sitting on a “ticking time bomb” due to the ageing workforce a Mid Devon officer has said.

In a statement regarding fitness for work issued by the authority, the Council said that they were aware that as the average age of the workforce increases the physical ability to perform manual tasks can become more challenging and ultimately can contribute to higher sickness absence rates attributable to muscular-skeletal conditions. …

… Discussions over the district’s handling of the ageing population were brought up by Councillor Jenny Roach who shared her concerns.

“When you read this report it talks about the individual being fit for work and the authority making sure that a person was fit for work,” she said. “When you get to be over 60, and you’re having to do a hard job you’re not going to be as fit for work as when you’re 28/29. I know you’re talking about people having other skills but in reality what can be done for those people?

“I would prefer it if the authority was saying that this was a major issue as people are having to work longer to keep the money flowing. We should make sure as an authority to make sure that jobs are mechanised as they have done in healthcare.”

Cllr Roach added that the word lifting is no longer used in healthcare, and has been replaced by the term moving and handling and that Mid Devon District Council should look into ways of mechanising jobs to avoid heavy lifting.

She added: “I can think of nothing worse than at 68, having to go out every day in all sorts of weathers when your arthritis is killing you and life heavy boxes. It’s a really big issue, and it’s not usually an issue people of qualifications or high positions will have to worry about. It’s the people who are refuse collectors who will have to continue to do that job.”

Catherine Yandle, Mid Devon’s group manager for performance, governance and data security replied: “Actually, that’s a fallacy. I totally agree that they’re the ones who you think would be impacted more, but in general, that’s not the case. We all lose the ability to think and to react in quite the same way when we get older.

“Unfortunately, because the default retirement age finished about five years ago, we are waiting and sitting on a ticking time bomb of issues with older staff and people whose retirement ages have been lengthened so they have to work longer to get their pensions, who feel the pressure to do so, so they will feel they need to work longer.

“We can’t just look at people’s functional health in respect of their physical wellbeing. We look at cognitive health and how they assimilate information. Because of age discrimination, you can’t say to people that they should retire; there isn’t a default retirement age. If they’re not performing in the way that we want them to be that physical or mental agility, then we will have to go down the capability route with them because there is no way of us dismissing those people unless they chose to go.

“We have a solicitor here who is also a qualified HR practitioner, so we’re very fortunate that we’re able to have somebody who has that understanding. This is very difficult for us as an employer.”

Cllr Roach said she was concerned how the Government was pushing people to work beyond their late 60s, yet being told they no longer are fit to carry out tasks they used to be able to.

“It’s fundamentally wrong, and that is not unfair. I think this Council should be doing something about it,” she added.

However, Ms Yandle added: “I agree with you, I don’t think it’s fair, I don’t think it’s right, it leaves a very nasty taste in the mouth of the employer for having to do that, but that’s where we are.

“We could accept a lesser performance, but I don’t think you as councillors would be happy with that, because you want value for money, you are representing the electorate who expect people to be performing at a certain level.”


“The Greater Exeter plan has been delayed”

Owl is STILL having difficulty understanding how the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP) fits in with the Devon and Somerset Heart of the South West Strategic plan!!! So many strategies, so many plans, so many people being paid to work out how to invent what might, or more likely might not, turn out to be a wheel – though one of them MIGHT just manage to invent a square one!

“Mid Devon, East Devon, Teignbridge and Exeter City Council, in partnership with Devon County Council, are teaming up to create a Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP) which focuses on the creation of jobs and housing until 2040.

… A consultation on the issues that the GESP should focus on took place 12 months ago and it was initially hoped that a consultation on a draft plan would begin in January of 2018.

But publication of the draft plan has been delayed and it is now likely that the draft GESP will be published in the summer of 2018.

Explaining the delay, a statement said: “In respect of the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP), and since our last Local Development Scheme was approved, there have been a number of factors which have delayed plan production.

“These include the fact that a great many sites were submitted through the Housing and Employment Land Availability Assessment ‘call for sites’ and these are being carefully assessed as well as further draft changes to national Government planning policy and a wish to investigate differing ways to ensure we can secure the best forms of development, including the highest quality new housing with supporting facilities, to meet our future needs.”

… The GESP will sit above District-level Local and community Neighbourhood Plans, taking a long-term strategic view to ensure important decisions about development and investment are coordinated. … “


Don’t count your (productivity) Unicorns before they hatch!

From David Daniel:

“The “Joint Committee” (representatives from 23 organisations across Devon and Somerset – political balance rules do not apply) has just endorsed the final version of the HotSW Productivity Strategy.

But would you buy the proverbial second-hand car from an organisation that takes such a cavalier attitude to presenting facts and figures? Would you trust it to invest hundreds of millions of pounds of your taxes wisely? And, if you did, would you have any faith in its ability subsequently to deliver the goods?

Let’s start with the press release statement: “The Productivity Strategy aims to double productivity in the area over 20 years”. It does no such thing. The maximum claimed productivity gain in the strategy is to jump from a currently “assumed” 1.7% local annual productivity growth (probably nearer 1.5%) to 2.2%. No doubling here even if you accumulate the change over 20 years. For interest, historic average UK productivity growth rate is 2.0% and in the league table of LEPs, HotSW ranks 32nd out of 37 (London and South East dominate).

The 20 year timescale is a bit fuzzy as well. The introduction to the adopted strategy says: “Our ambition is simple – to double the size of the economy over 20 years.” In the consultation draft, however, it said: “Our ambition is simple – to double the economy in 18 years.” So which is it? On page 36 the Productivity Strategy is clearly marked (as it was in the consultation draft) 2018 to 2036, and none of the other numbers has changed. In my book that is 18 years, not 20!

Anyhow, what is being doubled is not productivity but the size of the economy (a combination of growth in both productivity and employment). Except the economy won’t be doubled using any of the combinations of growth in productivity and employment mentioned in the strategy, in either 18 or 20 years. The best on offer is a 3% compound growth. If that started instantaneously this year, and it obviously won’t, it would yield 70% growth in 18 years or 80% in 20 years. To double the economy, a compound growth rate of 3.94% (4%) would be required. Long term average UK growth rate is 2.6%.

It is proposed to achieve this 3% economic growth by “holding” employment growth to 0.8% per annum (add 2.2% productivity growth to 0.8% employment growth = 3%). We are effectively at full employment now. The Office for National Statistic population projections do show the South West population as a whole growing over this period at around 0.8% (0.76%) per annum. However, we have an ageing population and the annual increase of those classified as of working age is only 0.16% (16 to 64 for all genders). This will leave a shortfall of around 83,000 workers by the end of 18 years. Pension age is increasing to 66 by 2020 and to 67 between 2028 and 2028. Even if all 65 to 69 year olds are added to the work force they would not make up the shortfall. They would probably not be at the cutting edge of productivity either. So the plan can only work with major inward migration. This could be difficult in the post Brexit world.

Having ambition is one thing; plucking numbers out of the air and throwing them around without regard to the real world is quite another. There is no discussion of how long the transition from the slow to fast lane might take, delivery considerations come later. The hype assumes instantaneous change. How can anyone take this seriously?

Perhaps the members of HotSW and the Joint Committee believe they will all be long gone in 18 or 20 years and can’t be held to account. But what they have signed up to is so dramatic that failure will very soon become apparent. Brexit, surprisingly, might herald a refocussing of minds as suggested by Philip Aldrick, economics editor The Times, 20 March:
“….One theory doing the rounds is that the Treasury wants to know if its business support schemes are working. A crunch is coming. England’s 39 local enterprise partnerships, designed to boost growth, are funded largely with EU grants. For 2014 to 2020, they secured €6.51 billion of European Structural and Investment funds. Of that, €2.5 billion was allocated to “enhancing the competitiveness of small and medium enterprises”, about a tenth of which went to less developed regions.”

“After Brexit, now formally delayed until 2021 after yesterday’s transition deal, the money will no longer make the round trip via Brussels. It will come directly from Westminster, bringing with it more political accountability. If the money is not driving productivity, which it patently isn’t, the Treasury may decide the financial medicine could be administered more effectively.”

Committee promises to double the number of unicorns in Devon and Somerset

How will we know that this committee can or will double productivity in 20 years? They will tell us in 20 years time! How will we know if they are correct? Answers on a postcard …

From the press release:

“Representatives from 23 organisations across Devon and Somerset today agreed steps to drive up productivity at the first meeting of the Heart of the South West (HotSW) Joint Committee.

The inaugural meeting of the Joint Committee unanimously endorsed the Productivity Strategy that has been taking shape over the last two years and aims to double productivity over 20 years.

At the meeting in Plymouth City Council offices, the committee also voted unanimously to appoint Councillor David Fothergill, Leader of Somerset County Council, as the first Chair of the new committee and Councillor Paul Diviani, Leader of East Devon District Council, as the Vice Chair. …

… The Productivity Strategy aims to double productivity in the area over 20 years, focussing on themes including promoting business leadership, housing, connectivity, infrastructure, skills and training. It looks at growth, capitalising on the area’s distinctive assets and maximising the potential of digital technology. … [just as a large part of digital technology has gone into freefall!]

Somerset County Council is acting as the host of the HotSW Joint Committee and meeting agendas and further information including the full Productivity Strategy can be found here:


Our Local Enterprise Partnership’s favourite project ringing alarm bells

Not what our nuclear-linked LEP board members want to hear:

“The UK nuclear regulator has raised concerns with EDF Energy over management failings that it warns could affect safety at the Hinkley Point C power station if left unaddressed, official documents reveal.

Britain’s chief nuclear inspector identified several shortcomings in the way the French firm is managing the supply chain for the £20bn plant it is building in Somerset.

Though not serious enough alone to raise regulatory issues, together they “may indicate a broader deficiency” in the way the company is run, concluded Mark Foy, chief inspector at the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR).

In October and November 2017, a team of 11 inspectors led by Foy visited the Hinkley site, EDF facilities in Bristol and Paris, and a French factory making parts for the plant.

The visits were triggered by the regulator’s concerns that EDF did not have sufficient oversight of the Creusot nuclear forge in France, where records have been found to be falsified.

A summary of the inspections, published by the ONR earlier this month, judged EDF’s supply chain management to be improving but below standard in some areas.

The full reports, released to the Guardian under freedom of information rules, paint a critical picture. They show that:

The ONR was concerned that EDF’s internal oversight and governance had not identified the shortcomings at the forge

Stuart Crook, Hinkley Point C managing director, admitted that EDF, not the ONR, should have spotted those shortcomings first

a lack of resources meant EDF did not undertake an internal audit of its quality control processes during 2017. Foy said this was “disappointing” as it might have picked up problems

On safety, the report said that: “Throughout this … inspection, themes have emerged that relate to both improvements in NNB GenCo’s [the EDF subsidiary building Hinkley] processes and to shortfalls in management system arrangements that, if unresolved, have the potential to affect safety.”

EDF’s own assessment of how it managed Hinkley’s supply chain had discovered shortfalls that could affect safety, the regulator found. The ONR also felt that the company’s plan for improving its self-assessment process was inadequate.

Moreover, they said that it was not clear who at EDF was managing quality control on the supply chain.

Interviews with EDF’s contractors for the Hinkley project, which include civil engineering groups Kier BAM and Bylor, also found that EDF had not done enough to pass on information about the failings at the Creusot forge to its suppliers.

However, the regulator said it was confident the company could make improvements ahead of the next key regulatory milestone for the power station, in August 2018. Overall, EDF was found to be operating within the UK’s exacting nuclear regulations.

“Current arrangements for the control of quality are judged, through ONR’s wider regulatory activities, to be appropriate at present,” said Foy.

Experts said the inspection’s conclusions were significant, as nuclear regulation language is usually restrained.

Paul Dorfman, of the Energy Institute at University College London, said: “Looking at this report with a practiced eye, you can see that the UK regulators are worried, and things aren’t necessarily going to get any better.

“In all things nuclear, safety is absolutely paramount. The fact that the UK nuclear regulator says that these problems could affect safety is very significant.”

EDF said it was already implementing improvement measures where required ahead of an increase in construction activity at the site. The company was also completing the outstanding internal quality assurance programme.

A spokesperson said: “The chief nuclear inspector’s report recognises that the current quality control arrangements for Hinkley Point C are appropriate.”

There are about 3,500 people working on the site at the moment, a number that is expected to peak at around 6,000 in 18 months, when construction is due to be at full throttle.

The power station should provide around 7% of the UK’s electricity and is due to switch on in 2025, though EDF has warned the project may run 15 months over schedule.”