'There was a time when you couldn't talk about nuclear power at dinner parties'

Tim Stone's enthusiasm for energy is infectious. Mark Leftly talks to the KPMG boss who wants to be – a Beach Boy

A 57-year-old Oxford-educated chemist is as giddy as a schoolboy when Brian Wilson, of Beach Boys fame, launches into yet another hit. The man turns to his son, who has taken him to the concert for his birthday, and blurts out: "That's what I want to do when I grow up."

Dr Tim Stone is one of life's enthusiasts. Paul Lester, chief executive at FTSE250 support services group VT, says: "You can't help but get enthusiastic too when Tim's talking about something, it's infectious." More important is a fierce intelligence: "He's extremely knowledgeable about nuclear, defence and the private finance initiative (PFI). Tim has a big brain and can absorb enormous amounts of data and process it – and that's why governments like him."

Dr Stone is chairman of the global infrastructure and projects group at KPMG, one of the big four accountants. The awkward title fails to hint at Dr Stone's influence. For more than a decade, he has been at the heart of government thinking, helping to develop key policy initiatives. At present, he is seconded, one and a half days a week, to the Government as its nuclear adviser, and, so, is the man who will set up the framework to deliver the ambitious reactor roll-out programme. Sources say that his "fingerprints are all over" the Government's £5.2bn-a-year plan to rebuild every secondary school in the country, while he has helped develop many of the PFI models that critics say amount to privatisation.

Despite relaying rock star ambitions to his son, Dr Stone is not a showman. He tends to work his way through the complex webs of government and private-sector relationships through his thick contacts book. Ask anyone involved in the bidding for a government contract whether they know Dr Stone, and the answer is typically a smile and a "yes".

"I'm having a whale of a time with my mixture of day jobs," he beams, on the fifth floor of KPMG's central London offices. He seems to be hinting that he would very much like his two-year nuclear secondment, due to finish in January, to be extended. This is a likely scenario given that the nuclear programme is at a crunch point. EDF, the French power giant, has just bought British Energy for £12.4bn, meaning that it can use its nuclear expertise to develop sites across the country by 2017 – the date that the Government wants the first of the new plants operational. The Climate Change Bill, passed last month, commits the Government to cutting carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, which makes nuclear power more essential.

"Nuclear is the only low-carbon form of baseload that we have," says Dr Stone, meaning that nuclear plants provide a constant supply of electricity, 24/7. Tidal power, for example, produces peaks of electricity twice a day. This means nuclear power is the only guaranteed way to constantly provide clean energy. There are plenty who oppose Dr Stone's reasoning, but he thinks there is a greater acceptance of the nuclear industry than even just two to three years ago. "There was a time that nuclear power was treated like politics, money and religion at dinner parties – you couldn't talk about it. Now people do."

The fear of the "n" word meant that the solution to hitting low carbon targets "was staring us in the face – though that's easy to say with 20:20 hindsight".

The Government has never said how many nuclear plants it wants built, making it clear that the market should decide, with operators going to ministers when they have identified suitable sites to develop them. However, it's thought that John Hutton, the former Business Secretary who led the nuclear programme until it was moved to Ed Miliband at the newly created energy and climate change department last month, envisaged 10 to 15 plants as possible. To hit an 80 per cent carbon reduction target could take up to double that, according to some industry sources.

While Dr Stone won't be drawn on government projections, he does admit to hoping that nuclear operators will have come up with plant plans early next year. "I would hope that at least two operators with identified sites should have come forward by Easter, although one more than that would be very good news," he says.

EDF is bound to be one of those operators. The British Energy deal, which is still subject to European Union competition approval, should see EDF build four reactors. The French company would like to develop the reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset and at Sizewell in Suffolk, which are existing British Energy nuclear sites.

Although Dr Stone clearly loves his secondment – he broke his foot while photographing the engine room of a nuclear-powered ice breaker while on holiday in the North Pole – his time is divided. He is a non-executive board member of the European Investment Bank, which in typical wide-eyed fashion he describes as "a magical institution", and recently took on an advisory role with the Welsh Assembly.

In Wales, Dr Stone heads up the Strategic Capital Investment Advisory Panel, which will help Welsh leaders spend about £400m in capital projects over the next three years. "We'll be looking at investing in projects that help to deliver bigger policy objectives," he says, giving little away. This takes him back towards his PFI roots. The PFI typically sees the private sector build, run and maintain public assets such as schools and hospitals over, say, 30 years. The private sector pays for the project, and the Government pays it back over the contract length.

Known as one of the great sages of the PFI, Dr Stone has been trying to develop the model so that more complex but effective partnerships can be made between government and companies. However, he concedes that the bank loans the private sector needs to fund the projects have simply dried up in the credit crunch. "I don't think we'll see banks lending on projects in large volumes for quite some time – three, four, maybe five years," he sighs.

This is possibly the only time that Dr Stone speaks with an air of resignation, though he soon gets excited that PFI was a mere "pilot" and that the Government must now look at ways of developing that model to deliver wider public-service reform benefits. He's clearly processing a lot of information at once, running numerous ideas through his mind. It's a little confusing, but Mr Lester was right: Dr Stone's enthusiasm is infectious. And maybe that's the real reason governments like having him around.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Austen Lloyd: Law Costs HOD - Southampton

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: An outstanding new...

SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £21000 per annum + uncapped commission: SThree: As a graduate you are...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn