Consultancy firms working for the government on the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station were advising the project’s Chinese investor and its French builder at the same time, an investigation by The Times has revealed. KPMG, the professional services group, was paid £4.4 million between 2012 and 2017 as a financial adviser to the energy and business departments, despite telling officials that it was also acting for China General Nuclear Power Corp on the project. The apparent conflict of interest has been revealed after the Information Commissioner’s Office intervened to press for disclosure from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Previously, officials had redacted the information, claiming that it was commercially sensitive. In a second potential conflict, Lazard, the financial advisory firm, was paid £2.6 million between 2012 and 2015 to advise the business department on Hinkley Point. Details of its previously redacted tender documents reveal that it was an adviser to EDF, the French developer that is investing in Hinkley Point alongside the Chinese. A source said that Lazard’s advice to EDF was not related to the Somerset project. Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the Commons public accounts committee, said that Hinkley Point was crucial public infrastructure and therefore it was “vital that auditors get full sight” of the potential conflicts. It “looks cosy”, she said, adding that it was “not really appropriate” for firms to be advising both sides. The details have been released more than a year and half after The Times complained to the Information Commissioner’s Office, which informally advised the business department to reconsider its position. The department previously had handed over heavily redacted documents in response to a Freedom of Information request. The Information Commissioner’s Office said that there was a “significant and important public interest”, something that had been strengthened by a report from the National Audit Office in June, which found that the government’s deal had “locked consumers into a risky and expensive project with uncertain strategic and economic benefits”. The project has been riddled with delays and controversy over its spiralling costs. The National Audit Office also criticised the business department for insufficiently managing the potential conflict of Leigh Fisher, another government adviser. The Times reported in November 2016 that Leigh Fisher, the management consultant, had been awarded contracts worth a combined £1.2 million despite telling officials that the British division of Jacobs Engineering Group, an American firm that owns Leigh Fisher, was working for EDF on Hinkley Point.
Times 1st Jan 2018 read more »