Stakeholder speculation about the future direction of RWM was inevitable after the announcement of current MD Bruce McKirdy’s retirement.
What’s striking, as you listen to influencers across the stakeholder spectrum, is the degree of unanimity of opinion outside RWM on how the organisation might progress. Regardless of whether you speak to someone in the nuclear industry, local government, public agencies, trades unions or academia, there are common perspectives on the situation.
RWM has been undergoing an internal transformation, as well as investing in new skills and resources. Changes are not always visible, but it is an increasingly different organisation to when it was founded 5 years ago. Bruce McKirdy’s departure focuses attention on the skillset and experience his successor will need, in the next phase of development, to effectively marshall those changes and best deploy the new skills and resources in order to move the siting process forward.
Across the stakeholder map there appears to be a common view that prior nuclear experience is not necessary. The emphasis of opinion on the required skillset is towards finding someone experienced in “people” and “politics”. Whether that’s someone with previous public agency, infrastructure, local government or other leadership experience seems less important to stakeholders than having a record of understanding how to work with local government and communities, of building relationships, and of managing Whitehall and Westminster.
As the GDF project progresses to actual site investigations and beyond, everyone recognises that different resource priorities, skills and leadership will be required at different points of the journey. But at this stage in the GDF programme’s lifecycle it appears commonly accepted that it is primarily a social and political initiative, to build trust and open a discussion.
Whoever is appointed will clearly also need to demonstrate the capability to manage complex technical and regulatory issues, maintain RWM’s excellent technical reputation, ensure appropriate governance, account for the expenditure of taxpayers funds, and successfully argue the case for further public investment. If there is a stakeholder worry, it is that in a risk-averse nuclear sector culture, the chosen candidate will be a “safe pair of hands” administratively, but lack the dynamism to drive the siting process forward in conjunction with communities and local government.
There is no underestimation amongst stakeholders of the difficulty of this recruitment challenge, to find someone to make progress with one of the most challenging public policy projects imaginable. However, there is little that is new in these stakeholder perceptions of how RWM should evolve.
In the past five years, RWM has conducted two major, in-depth surveys of stakeholder opinion. The results of these surveys have yet to be published, but GDFWatch understands that both surveys reveal a universal high regard for RWM’s technical competence, acknowledgment that RWM was making changes in the right direction, but a residual concern that the organisation was not backing up its words with sufficient deeds in terms of being an effective community engager.
We may know by Christmas who is to lead RWM into the next stage of its development. Whoever that is will have one of the most challenging jobs in Britain. Their success will be defined not just by their organisational & management skills but on their ability to effect real change in the outside world — a world in which they need to secure other people’s ‘consent’.