Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Minister lands top job with French power firm - just a year after giving it the go-ahead to take over British nuclear plants


By Jason Lewis
Last updated at 2:55 AM on 13th September 2009

Energy talks: John Hutton

Energy talks: John Hutton

The Cabinet Minister behind a £12.5billion nuclear power deal with French-owned energy giant EDF is set to take a highly-paid job with the firm.

’s proposed move comes just a year after the former Business Secretary gave the go-ahead for the firm to buy many of Britain’s existing and future nuclear power plants.

It is bound to raise new questions about the so-called ‘revolving door’ which allows Ministers to quit and take up lucrative jobs with firms they helped while in Government.

The energy deal saw EDF – which is controlled by the French government – take over British Energy and its eight UK nuclear power stations.

It also gave the firm control of most of the sites earmarked for building new nuclear power stations in Britain, including Sizewell in Suffolk and Dungeness in Kent.

Now EDF, the world’s largest energy firm, wants Mr Hutton, who resigned from the Cabinet in June, to take ona role advising the firm on ‘key strategic issues’.

His appointment will first need to be approved by the independent , which advises the Prime Minister.

But while the committee can impose restrictions on senior Government officials and Ministers taking up jobs in the private sector, it rarely prevents their appointment.

Mr Hutton was Business Secretary from 2007 until October last year, when he became Secretary of State for Defence, and was seen as the main architect of the EDF deal and the plans for a new British nuclear power plant building programme.

When the EDF deal threatened to falter, with investors holding out for a higher price for their shares, he personally intervened, telling shareholders:

‘I am disappointed that talks between British Energy and EDF have not yet been successful. We thought it was a good deal and we were ready to accept.’

He has also advocated that Britain should concentrate on securing its future energy needs before dealing with climate change.

EDF has made no secret that it plans to use its acquisition of British Energy as a platform to build at least four nuclear reactors in Britain.

It is expected Mr Hutton will be appointed to EDF’s Stakeholder Advisory Panel, which advises the firm’s senior management, and includes Lord Patten, the former Tory Cabinet Minister and last Governor of Hong Kong.

If his move goes ahead, Mr Hutton will join a steady stream of former senior Labour colleagues taking highly paid jobs in the private sector, such as former Trade and Health Secretary , former Home Secretary and ex-Defence Minister Ivor Caplin.

Last night a spokesman for EDF confirmed it was in discussions with John Hutton. He added: ‘Nothing has been concluded at this stage.’

EDF refused to say how much Mr Hutton would be paid for the new role.