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How the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is investing in projects to help deliver positive change

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The NDA is contributing funding to the Sutherland Spaceport near Dounreay, Scotland, which will create 700 jobs. Image courtesy of the Nuclear Decomissioning Authority.

As the chartered membership organisation for the project profession, APM wants to understand more about the current and future landscape for the projects and programmes creating social benefits in the UK. What issues affect these projects, how much of an impact are they having, and where are those impacts most felt?  

Here, APM speaks to the NDA’s Director of Socio-Economics, Jamie Reed about the NDAs commitment to working with local partners to help improve, grow and diversify the economies in those communities closest to its sites. Jamie talks about how the desired social outcomes are identified, planned and ultimately delivered including what challenges or barriers have to be overcome, and the future delivery of projects. 

The NDA has 17 nuclear sites around the UK - from Dounreay in Scotland to Dungeness in Kent - and is committed to overcoming the challenges of nuclear clean-up and decommissioning, working to ensure that beyond the completion of its decommissioning mission it leaves a positive and long-lasting legacy for future generations. 

What kind of social value projects does the NDA currently deliver?  

Essentially all of what we are doing at NDA is creating social value because of the work we are doing in decommissioning the nuclear fleet around the UK, taking care of our civil and military nuclear legacy. It is essentially about driving social value, and driving environmental improvement. In terms of projects, we are investing in a wide variety of projects and initiatives which are closest to our 17 sites in the UK, which in turn helps to create jobs and help to grow local economies contributing towards UK national growth in the process. We always work to get the most social value out of all that we are doing at NDA and we deploy a twin-track approach: delivering as much social value as we can from our business as usual activities and through direct grant investment in projects to help grow and diversify the economies of those communities where we are delivering our mission.

One of the socio-economic projects which we've recently funded is for the Sutherland Spaceport close to Dounreay, Scotland, our most northerly site. We will ultimately invest £3 million in the project which should ultimately create 700 jobs in that part of Scotland.  £2.5 million has been invested by the UK Space Agency, as well as funding from the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE). Orbex is going to be manufacturing rockets to launch from the site and has the ambition of deploying the World’s most environmentally friendly space rocket, pioneering renewable ultra-low carbon biofuels – with 96% lower carbon emissions than fossil fuel alternatives. It’s really exciting stuff.

Another socio-economic projects that we have invested in include the Morlais Tidal Energy Project – a 240-megawatt tidal energy project off Holy Island, Wales. Morlais will benefit local communities, the economy and help to combat climate change by generating clean low carbon electricity using tidal power, creating at least 100 new jobs in the area. The NDA and Magnox (now Nuclear Restoration Services) have worked in partnership with social enterprise Menter Môn over many years, investing over £1m in the Morlais project to help leverage almost £50m of funding from the Welsh government for delivery of the project, and representing one of our most innovative socio-economic projects to date. Working with local partners to help to deliver green growth is an achievement we are proud of.  

We have a long and growing list of successful socio-economic projects and we report on these annually. By working with local partners we have enabled good ideas to take flight, grow and become reality. We continue to use our resources to leverage significantly more money than we are able to provide directly, supporting our communities in the creation and realisation of their ambitions. 

How does the NDA decide on the projects you are going to invest or partner with? 

Firstly, we establish a baseline. We have independently produced economic impact assessments for all of our estate, which shows us the reliance or the relationship between any given community where we operate on the site which we're decommissioning. That baseline allows us to see where our economic interventions are most required and will therefore be most valuable and needed. 

We also have a well-established set of relationships with local stakeholders to help identify and understand the projects which we might be able to support, to understand the challenges and to support them in their ambitions. This is how we decide on the projects that we end up working with. 

The Sutherland Spaceport would be a case in point. We would never have had the idea of investing in the space sector, but given the information on the ground, and the ability of the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), and the desire of local stakeholders for us to examine the business plans and ideas and proposals, it is something we decided to embark on, and we are proud to be supporting the project.  

What challenges or barriers have to be overcome, and how is stakeholder buy-

Some of the challenges can be around finding the right project as project ideas and ideas for investment are plentiful.  Identifying those projects which are going to help to shift the dial socially and economically in our communities is where the challenge comes in, and that requires a lot of evidence-based research and communication.  I think sometimes there's a difficulty with the pace of delivery, as that’s not all in our hands. It's the nature of partnership, working with both the private and the public sector, and being hit by waves of various and varying intensities in different parts of the UK. 

Capacity to deliver can be an issue at times, but we get around that by trying to provide as much clarity and lead time around investment as we possibly can. We're currently working now to a plan for the next financial year, so the resources that we have allocated for the next financial year are already committed. The resources that we have for the financial year for 25/26, are already two thirds committed so that clarity gives us and our partners the impetus to make sure that capacity is available to deliver projects on time; that can -  or has historically -  been the challenge.

Do you require any specific skills or other considerations that perhaps aren’t associated with other types of project/s delivered?

Working with our supply chain on the need for social value as part of the work we do is still an evolving practise, although there is a greater understanding and awareness of it in supply chain now. And we're seeing this across the board in tenders for projects as well; a much greater, more sophisticated understanding of what social value is and what it means. But I think there's still a way to go.  I think there needs to be a greater, more in depth understanding of what social value means, not as a concept, but what it actually means in those communities where projects are being undertaken.  

For example, social value in one part of our estate might be completely different to how social value should be achieved in another part of our estate. I think that sophistication and that plurality needs to be understood better, but there's a willingness and desire there which is great to see.  

We’re working hard across the NDA group to make social value business as usual, it's a central part of how we do our job and how we deliver our mission.  

Do you think there are enough project professionals in the talent pipeline to sustain future delivery of social benefit projects, such as those the NDA is working on?

We need a steady stream of project managers coming through in order to help us to deliver projects effectively and as timely as possible.   It's got to be business that invests in the talent pipeline, as somebody once said, ‘we are all in this together’ and we all need to invest to make sure that we've got the right skills in place going forward.  

For example, some years ago in response to a shortage in project managers, Sellafield created  a Project Academy (a joint working arrangement between the University of Cumbria and Sellafield Ltd) which offers courses which are available to everyone not just those working in the nuclear industry or in the project profession.  It’s a scheme which is being mirrored by other organisations including blue chips to ensure they have enough project managers to deliver projects now and in the future.  Sellafield is also one of the largest recruiters of female apprentices in the UK as well.  This is great to see in its own right but also in terms of social value in helping to reduce the gender pay gap in communities around where Sellafield is situated in. So that's the kind of improvement that we're looking for when we talk about delivering social value through business as usual- real, significant changes in communities for the for the better. 

The NDA is also working on doubling our graduate and apprenticeship scheme over the next few years to ensure we have that steady stream of project managers coming through.

If you’re interested in a career at the NDA, you can visit their vacancies page.


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