The UK & Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) has responded to the recent publication of new ‘Good Practice Guidelines’ for the bodies responsible for community consultation at civil and military nuclear sites.
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) is responsible for funding and providing secretariat support to Site Stakeholder Groups at civil nuclear power sites across the UK. 
The Young Nuclear Professionals’ Forum has produced new guidelines to improve community engagement in these bodies, and the NDA is currently seeking comments on the proposals (closing date 3 December).
The NFLA has been keen to respond to the consultation as the revision of the guidelines came about as a direct result of a damning report published in 2017 by the network into the inadequacies of community engagement at that time. 
NFLA UK & Ireland Steering Committee Chair Councillor David Blackburn said:
“In 2017, the NFLA Secretary surveyed Councillors, council officers, and community representatives who attended meetings of these groups. It was clear then that existing arrangements were far from being ‘fit for purpose’. Many respondents reported that they were deeply dissatisfied and frustrated by their experiences, and most felt that their views were not listened to, with ‘lip service’ being paid to democratic practices.
“Although a few groups were well run, these were the exceptions, and most were found not to be making a meaningful effort to engage with elected representatives, community groups and residents who have a legitimate interest in, or concerns about, the operations of their local nuclear site.”
The NFLA has offered a ‘cautious welcome’ to the published guidelines as they have addressed many of the aspirations for improvements sought by the network in its 2017 report.
Commenting, Councillor Blackburn added:
“The adoption by all Site Stakeholder Groups of these new guidelines would ensure greater consistency in community consultation across all civil nuclear sites across the UK. We particularly welcome proposals to make meetings more open to the public and the media, publishing meeting papers on-line, seeking greater representation on the board from local groups, and encouraging more open and inclusive debate.”
The NFLA also particularly welcomes the suggestion by the Young Nuclear Professionals Forum that the guidelines should also extend to new groups established for new nuclear sites, but the network does have real reservations that the guidelines do not go far enough or that the NDA lacks a commitment to implement them.
Councillor Blackburn concluded:
“The NFLA has made a number of additional suggestions to improve the guidelines and we hope that these will be taken on board, specifically we want to see further measures to ensure that the Chair and Vice Chair of each group are truly independent of the nuclear site operator and the NDA to ensure impartially, and we would like to see a still greater involvement of a wider range of local and specialist stakeholder groups to ensure effective oversight of nuclear sites by the communities which host them. We would also like to see a Quality Award scheme created that is similar to the one sought by town and parish councils for groups that adopt best practice.
“I commend these guidelines and our additional suggestions to the NDA, and to the members of the SSG Forum, and hope that they will have a change of heart and, after reflection, choose to embrace them as a means to make serious improvements to the standard of community engagement in Britain’s civil nuclear industry.”
For more information, please contact Richard Outram, NFLA Secretary, at (Email) firstname.lastname@example.org, (Mobile) 07583097793.
Notes to Editors
The response of the NFLA to the consultation by the NDA reads: 2 December 2021
Nuclear Decommissioning Authority
Response by email to: Celia.Wighton@nda.gov.uk
Re. The response of the Nuclear Free Local Authorities Network (NFLA) to the consultation on the Good Practice Guidelines for Site Stakeholder Groups (SSGs) and Local Liaison Committees (LLC)’
Dear Ms Wighton,
The Nuclear Free Local Authorities Network (NFLA) wishes to respond to the invitation to submit comments on the ‘Good Practice Guidelines for Site Stakeholder Groups (SSGs) and Local Liaison Committees (LLC)’ produced by the Young Nuclear Professionals’ Forum and just published on behalf of the Nuclear Industry Safety Directors’ Forum (SDF).
Although the guidelines do not reflect in full the aspirations of the NFLA for greater democracy, inclusivity, and transparency within the civil nuclear SSGs and defence nuclear LLCs, nonetheless it
would be churlish for us not to welcome the publication of these guidelines as a positive, though imperfect, step forward in the much-needed reform of the membership, operation, and accountability of these bodies.
They have arisen directly because of the work of the NFLA, as a paper written by former NFLA Secretary Sean Morris at the request of the NFLA and published in March 2017, first highlighted the unacceptable inconsistencies and inadequacies of existing arrangements within the SSGs and LLCs (1).
It is to their credit that the Young Nuclear Professionals’ Forum have taken on this review and their work is to be commended. However, it is disappointing that it has taken four and a half years for these guidelines to see the light of day, especially as in March 2017, then NFLA Steering Committee Chair and Welsh Forum Co-Chair Councillor Ernie Galsworthy called for urgent action stating that the: “NFLA believe it is imperative to improve nuclear policy stakeholder engagement”.
The NDA Guidance for Site Stakeholder Groups (Ref LAR3.0) published March 2009 makes clear that ‘It has the overarching aim of ensuring that decisions taken by the NDA or operators that affect NDA sites are informed by the local community’s views’.
Yet in 2017, eight years later, the 2017 NFLA paper revealed that, in surveys conducted by the NFLA Secretariat amongst the representatives of NGOs, local authority elected members and officers who attended SSG and LLC meetings, many non-industry participants expressed their deep frustration with the poor and inconsistent stakeholder engagement generally prevalent across the nuclear sector. There was a real sense that ‘lip service’ was being paid to democratic practices, rather than a genuine effort being made to engage with external stakeholder groups and individuals having a legitimate interest in, and concerns about, the operations of nuclear sites.
It was clear then that existing arrangements were far from being ‘fit for purpose’ and that significant reform would be needed for SSGs and LLCs to be seen to have any credibility and legitimacy as models for wider community engagement. It is therefore gratifying to see the guidelines acknowledge the value of stakeholder engagement in decision making and the legitimate interest of elected members, the public, NGOs, and the press in the scrutiny of operational nuclear sites.
The NFLA also particularly welcomes the recommendation that ‘for new nuclear sites an appropriate forum should be established as soon as reasonably possible to enable local communities to have a voice in the development of the site’. We concur and hope that Site Stakeholder Groups will in due course be established for all new nuclear sites, including SMR and fusion. We look forward to seeing this made a reality and will continue to campaign to make it so.
Our 2017 report made the following recommendations:
- There needs to be greater consistency in the operation of NDA SSGs, EDF LCLCs, and also on nuclear legacy and nuclear new build discussions with overall decision-making.
- The representation of civil and defence nuclear stakeholder groups should be reviewed by the MOD, the NDA, Magnox sites run by Cavendish Flour and EDF Energy. There needs to be dedicated and consistent websites publishing meeting minutes, a regular schedule of meetings and a consideration of widening the scope of discussion in civil and defence nuclear site stakeholder groups.
- ONR should convene a working group, with balanced membership from industry, local authorities, and NGOs, to prepare a set of good practice guidelines for the operation of SSGs / LLCs / LCLCs.
- The generous funding of the Chair and Vice Chair of stakeholder groups should be reviewed in parallel with paying appropriate expenses for individual members. Considering membership on a wider regional rather than just local basis should be looked at as well.
- A more participative approach to all nuclear stakeholder meetings should be welcomed and encouraged.
- Nuclear regulators should review their role on such groups and reflect on the comments made by survey respondents.
- MOD LLCs and EDF LCLCs should be made fully open to the public to attend and relevant NGOs should be allowed to be members of them. All meetings should be held at times to allow for the public to attend them.
Looking then at the new ‘Good Practice Guidelines’ there is much that is good in them:
- The call for site operators to establish a website for every SSG and LLC to enable information about the remit, membership, and meetings of the group to be publicly accessible
- The establishment by SSGs and LLCs of clear constitutions and terms of reference
- A more representative membership reflecting the local community in which the nuclear site sits
- The requirement for members to declare interests and adhere to a code of conduct
- The provision of training for members
- The creation of a public question time
- The promotion of an inclusive participative meeting format
- Holding meetings in public venues and at times that are accessible to all sections of society
- Opening-up meetings to the press
- Not using unnecessary ‘secrecy’ to inhibit or veil proceedings
- Ensuring some independence through the creation of a non-industry co-chair
These reflect similar best practices in other public bodies such as local authorities and residents’ associations, and they reflect many of the aspirations outlined in our March 2017 report.
However, we do have some suggestions to make the guidelines more robust and to further ensure independence and inclusion within SSGs and LLCs:
- We are concerned that the significant annual payment made to the Chair of SSGs/ LLCs may inhibit independence. To coin a phrase, who pays the piper calls the tune, and a relatively well- renumerated Chair may be less inclined to brook challenges to the site operator or the NDA. The NFLA feels that the level of renumeration should be revisited to ensure that the payment does not represent an undue consideration to someone taking on role.
- Declarations of interest should be made in writing upon appointment and after every year in office
- Declarations should include employment by the site operator, sub-contractor or supplier or NDA;
- former employment by these entities; declarations of partners, immediate family members and close friends still in these employment situations; financial investments held with companies connected with the operation of the site; or any dependence on company pensions from those businesses.
- Members should also declare expenses, hospitality or gifts received because of their involvement with the work of the group on an annual basis.
- Members should have to make any declarations of interest to the operations of the site, pecuniary, non-pecuniary or personal at the start of every meeting.
- Failure to do any of the above should constitute a breach of the Code of Conduct by the member requiring remedial action.
- Information about declarations and expenses etc should be publicly accessible on the website.
- Only members without any financial or personal connection with the business of the site should be eligible for election to the position of ‘independent co-chair’, and only ‘independent’ members of SSGs and LLCs similarly without such interests should be able to vote for that ‘independent’ chair.
- Where there are co-chairs similar eligibility and voting conditions should apply, and there should be one industry appointed and one ‘independent’ co-chair.
- We have concerns that the proposed guidelines would permit existing SSG/LLG members to prevent the admission of legitimate NGOs and so remain a ‘closed shop’. We believe that the default position should be that local groups, which are representative of sections of the local community, or have some other stakeholder interest, should be automatically admitted to membership. Should a strong objection to their admittance be made by an existing member, a meeting should be convened for that member to state their case and for the group to respond, followed by questions from other members, after which a vote on admission should be taken by the ‘independent’ members only.
- Reviews of the arrangements and membership should take place every three years, rather than five.
- It should be an aspiration to establish a Quality Award scheme, as exists for Parish and Town Councils, to acknowledge SSGs / LLCs who embrace the guidelines or otherwise implement good governance practice.
It is the hope of the NFLA that these proposals might also be taken forward within the guidelines.
The NFLA has been disappointed to hear that the Head of Stakeholder Engagement at the NDA and the SSG Forum have chosen not to endorse the guidelines because they did not originate from those bodies. It is our view that the Young Nuclear Professionals’ Forum deserves credit for their initiative and, as there is much to commend in the proposals, we would ask the NDA and the SSG Forum to take them on board and to give serious consideration to our own ideas to demonstrate their serious commitment to community engagement.
To close, the 2017 NFLA report called upon the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA); Radioactive Waste Management (RWM); Magnox sites; EDF Energy; the Ministry of Defence; the UK Government; and devolved governments in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland to play their part in improving practice in SSGs and LLCs, and we hope that these parties will all embrace these proposals.
We look forward to seeing the final outcome of the consultation, and hope to see real change in the coming months.
Councillor David Blackburn, Chair, NFLA Steering Committee
 Nuclear Free Local Authorities, 2017. Nuclear Site Stakeholder Groups and Local Liaison Committees – are they fit for purpose? And how should wider nuclear policy stakeholder management improve?