Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

OFMDFM: “NI Water’s response was clearly inadequate…”

Wed 29 December 2010, 4:14pm

Which “officials” were “summoned” to Stormont this morning by Martin McGuinness, and in what capacity the Northern Ireland deputy First Minister was acting, isn’t entirely clear – as we only have a Sinn Féin press release to go on.  But the “stocktake meeting in the morning at NI Water” mentioned here by the relevant Minister, Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy, seems to have been pushed back into the afternoon as a result.

What we do have is a joint OFMDFM statment today

In a joint statement the Ministers said: Our officials have been in daily contact with NI Water and the Civil Contingencies Group was operational over the Christmas period. Given the difficulties that are apparent we have decided, as an Executive, to look at how the response to the current situation can be improved.

We have also spoken to the Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and have accepted an offer of 160,000 litres of water which should be here today.

NI Water’s response was clearly inadequate and we are now looking urgently at what further measures can be taken to alleviate the problems people are facing. At our request, officials spoke overnight to NI Water and we have now sent civil service staff to provide support in their call centre. We have also asked the Head of the Civil Service to continue to work with the Civil Contingencies Group in advance of the Executive to discuss the emergency response. As priority we have asked that group to look at how communication to the public can be improved.

Which with the NI deputy First Minister now telling the BBC that…

My focus is on how NI Water can do things better over the course of the next number of days,” [Martin McGuinness] said. [added emphasis]

…is not exactly a vote of confidence in the Minister responsible, Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy.

On Monday the NI Regional Development Minister stated

“I have been receiving on-going updates from NI Water on how it is dealing with interruptions to water supplies across a number of areas as a result of the ongoing thaw.”

And yesterday Conor Murphy was telling the media that

Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy said he had been in contact with NI Water about the problems.

“I have been speaking to the chief executive of NI Water and they have assured me that they are working flat out to try and resolve all of these problems,” he said.

“They have issues with contact because the volume of calls that has come in has put them under severe pressure.

“I have been constantly in touch with them to try and reassure myself that they’re doing everything in their power to try and address this issue.” [added emphasis]

Additionally, from a UTV report yesterday

“[NI Water] have been dealing with around six times the normal number of calls,” Mr Murphy told UTV.

I’ve spoken to the Chief Executive and they are bringing in more resources, and more will be added tomorrow. NI Water has struggled to cope, but they have an action plan on the ground.” [added emphasis]

The question for the Northern Ireland Regional Develeopment Minister is at what point did he realise that NI Water’s “action plan”, and his own assessment that “they’re doing everything in their power to try and address this issue”, was inadequate?

Assuming he did…

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Comments (53)

  1. Cynic2 (profile) says:

    “an offer of 160,000 litres of water”

    Great – that’s 100ml each!!! We are saved

    Perhaps the Department could issue advice on how we can recycle our own urine. That may help

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  2. Cynic2 (profile) says:

    “They have issues with contact because the volume of calls that has come in has put them under severe pressure.

    “I have been constantly in touch with them”

    ……. but were you able to get through Minister?

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  3. Nevin (profile) says:

    Health advice during interruption to water supply

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  4. pippakin (profile) says:

    Actually this is quite clever Martin and Peter rise above the fray to deal firmly, fairly and of course in a completely non-sectarian way with a major problem. Gold stars to both and an election in the offing…

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  5. Nevin (profile) says:

    Will Owen Paterson step in?

    There are difficult times ahead, but we have no option but to take difficult decisions to sort out the mess left by the last Government. .. 20.12.2010

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  6. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Another tree Nevin? Which part of the crisis involves reserved matters? This looks like an ‘indigenous’ problem to me.

    The Executive meets tomorrow as soon as soon as Peter gets back from Florida.

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  7. DC (profile) says:

    as soon as Peter gets back from Florida.

    It’s as well for him.

    Does he not get the couple of bank/public holidays like the rest of us? I was back at work today – is he on extended annual leave or something!

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  8. Nevin (profile) says:

    Mick, Owen is still the ‘indigenous’ SoS ;)

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  9. alan56 (profile) says:

    Martin McG Minister for Water? and he seems to be striking a slightly different tone to Conor Murphy….

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  10. radex (profile) says:

    We are hearing too much ‘heads will roll’ nonsense. Whenever anything goes wrong – e.g. the lowest temperatures ever recorded in Northern Ireland – somone has to be blamed, someone has to be punished, scapegoats must be found, someone must be sacrificed. The hunt is on.

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  11. Jo (profile) says:

    I think a lot of the poor response could possibly be traced back not only to the severity of the weather problems, but the utter demotivation of the NIW workforce. They have been continually mismanaged by both their parent departments and more recently by poor executives. Their non-executive capacity was dissolved and I am sure Declan Gormley, Chirs Mellor et al are quite happy with the current utter shambles. Shadenfruede indeed. Meantime, Paul Priestly’s water supply is unaffected….

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  12. Dec (profile) says:

    “The question for the Northern Ireland Regional Develeopment Minister is at what point did he realise that NI Water’s ”action plan”, and his own assessment that “they’re doing everything in their power to try and address this issue”, was inadequate?”

    Well at least a day earlier than the First Minister who’s off sunning himself in Florida (‘Crisis, what crisis?’). The mind boggles at the threads that would be generated here if he was a shinner.

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  13. joeCanuck (profile) says:

    Radex,

    I am totally sure that the front line workers and their immediate supervisors are working flat out to repair the problems and, should be applauded..
    The ones who may be at fault are those who didn’t have an Emergency Plan, to hire tankers etc for street deliveries and the like.
    That needs to be fully investigated and if there are those who neglected their duties, their heads should roll.

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  14. Cynic2 (profile) says:

    “Will Owen Paterson step in?”

    I am sure he is delighted that this is an area where blame is fully devolved.

    But no doubt Conor Murphy will be on soon telling us it was all the fault of Thatcher and British Water Imperialism

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  15. Rocketeer (profile) says:

    As soon as Peter gets back from Florida.

    —————————————————————–

    It’s as well for him.

    Does he not get the couple of bank/public holidays like the rest of us? I was back at work today – is he on extended annual leave or something!

    —————————————————————–

    Is it not Peter Robinson’s sixty-second birthday today?

    Perhaps he has an extra day off work for his birthday? I am actually quite impressed – and a little envious – that he managed to even get to Flordia given the fact that my Christmas holiday plans went down the drain because of the poor weather conditions! Is he actually still in Flordia and if so will he be present for the Executive meeting tommorow? I was quite struck by the tone of Martin McGuinness when lambasting NI Water tonight and if I was Conor Murphy I would be feeling very uncomfortable next to McGuinness when blasting the inadequate planning for the thaw conditions…and I would most certainly watch out for Mr Robinson tommorow, whom might just be a little annoyed that his holidays had to be cancelled LOL!

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  16. Pigeon Toes (profile) says:

    Anyone else an opportunity to manoeuvre MacKenzie out now?

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  17. radex (profile) says:

    JoeCanuck,

    They had an emergency plan but it turned out to be inadequate, specifically, there should have been more staff on the emergency help line. Beyond that the engineers and front-line workers are going flat-out to repair the damage and restore supply. The Water Service was taken by surprise by the severity of the Big Freeze and its consequences. They can’t be blamed for that – the extraordinarily low temperatures had never occurred before in the lifetime of any living member of the Water Service, nor any Minister. You have to go back before 1869 to find similar low temperatures.

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  18. alan56 (profile) says:

    There has been much made recently of the huge amount of money being spent on PR and communications staff in the public sector. Everyone now blaming NI Water’s poor communications… ironic.

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  19. Rory Carr (profile) says:

    I’m glad to see that the traditional response to crisis is alive and kicking among those commenting on the glut of threads on this matter:

    Never mind fixing the problem – let’s just be sure to fix the blame.

    Some years ago in a Labour administration they used to have some bozo (Dennis something or other?) who was a sort of revolving minster for whatever little mini-crisis that would pop up – Minister for Bollards; Minister for Dogs’ Poo; Minister for Eurovison Entries – whatever the redtops were fixated upon, he became instant Minister of. Perhaps the Assembly could take this idea on board.

    Would it not have been a great idea to have had a Minister for Snow, a snowman if you like, during the recent cold snap? The job of course would always go to an Alliance Party MLA because…well because that is the kind of thing that Alliance people are best suited for and they won’t mind in the least being kicked around just so long as the job title and the car goes along with it.

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  20. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    Radex

    All good points.

    But, despite what some appear to believe, this post isn’t about the response by NI Water.

    It’s about the political response.

    Which has seen the NI Regional Development Minister defend NI Water – including the Chief Executive he retained and the Non-Executive Board members he appointed after he sacked all but one of the last Non-Executive Board members.

    That is, up until today when OFMDFM, and in particular Martin McGuinness, condemned the response of NI Water.

    Leaving the DRD Minister, Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy, swinging in the wind…

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  21. William Markfelt (profile) says:

    ‘NI Water has struggled to cope, but they have an action plan on the ground.”

    Good thing they drew a map to the ‘Situations Room’ earlier this year. Perhaps the great unwashed can stumble their way in there and get their fingers out of their asses.

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  22. ranger1640 (profile) says:

    Did no one at Northern Ireland Water, not anticipate that when the thaw came there would be leaks in their antiquated and already leaking mains system. If they failed to under stand that very low temperatures for an extended period would not have caused these problems then they are not the right people for the job. Do they not know that the laws of physics http://www.practicalphysics.org/go/Experiment_554.html
    still work here in Northern Ireland.

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  23. fitzjameshorse1745 (profile) says:

    The biggest problem with a Coalition Government involving five parties is that we have a Coalition Opposition involving five parties. (or more precisely perming any four from five)
    Thus the rule of thumb is that say Sinn Féin believes that Ms Ruane is not really closing schools or whatever….it is the Education Boards. But shes a target for the other four.
    Thus UUP people believes that Health Boards are really at fault and Mr MGimpsey isnt really singlehandedly bringing infection into hospital wards. But the other four believe that he is. Or chooses to believe it.
    Likewise I happily want to believe that David Ford is releasing murderers and rapists into the community. And four other parties believe it. But Alliance people blame his underlings.

    Likewise the “Water” thing.
    Hard to believe that Conor Murphy is actually “responsible” but hey if youre a member or supporter of the other four parties then clearly its open season.
    We have a peculiar form of Government.
    And an even more peculiar form of Opposition.

    But Water is just about the most basic human necessity.
    Like gritting the roads. Or supplying flu jabs.
    And it all costs money.
    That nobody wants to pay…..not least on the balance of probability that this winter is a “one off”. Just how much money is “value”.

    And nice to see that Doctor who goes on about smoking back on our News screens.

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  24. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    Fitzy

    “Hard to believe that Conor Murphy is actually “responsible”…”

    To repeat myself…

    despite what some appear to believe, this post isn’t about the response by NI Water.

    It’s about the political response.

    Which has seen the NI Regional Development Minister defend NI Water – including the Chief Executive he retained and the Non-Executive Board members he appointed after he sacked all but one of the last Non-Executive Board members.

    That is, up until today when OFMDFM, and in particular Martin McGuinness, condemned the response of NI Water.

    Leaving the DRD Minister, Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy, swinging in the wind…

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  25. Mark (profile) says:

    Swinging in the wind is better than lying in the sun which is what Peter Robinson is doing . The first real crisis to hit the North in terms of a non political human interest story and Robbo has left the building .

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  26. Mark (profile) says:

    Why is the first Minister still out of the country as the water fiasco lingers on ?

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  27. Mark (profile) says:

    You could understand if the problem was solved but it’s not . This disaster is not a one off event , it is on going and the fact that Peter Robinson has chosen to hide away is a disgrace . It is an insult to the people who are suffering . For someone drinking in the last chance saloon , the cheek of him . You can be sure he’s washing his arse in ballygowan !

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  28. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Dec,

    Peter’s poor response lies in not convening the NI Executive before the crisis, preferring instead to respond afterwards, once the damage has been done.

    But as a former Minister for Regional Development, you might think he would have had a modicum of understanding of Conor Murphy’s arduous ministerial brief.

    On the other hand, Conor’s singular (ie not shared directly with the Minister of Finance, nor FM) problem is that he initiated an abject retreat (against the advice of a Board he rather publicly disgraced) from investment in NI’s ailing infrastructure.

    In truth NIW is wounded because of cuts the Minister unilaterally pushed down from the top via his now sacked Permanent Secretary.

    And yet, there are a lot of good ordinary people within NIW who are doing their very best for friends relatives and neighbours.

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  29. shamie (profile) says:

    It’s remarkable how little attention is being turned on the performance of the guy actually running the show in NIW – not Conor Murphy but Mr McKenzie. He’s like MacCavities Cat.

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  30. fitzjameshorse1745 (profile) says:

    Bakery,
    To the people without water tonight, the response by NI Water is probably more important than the political response.
    My point….and I dont mind repeating it …..is that the nature of our political governance is that the performance of any Minister is opposed routinely by his/her coalition
    partners.

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  31. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Shamie, Indeed. Would that be the man Mr Murphy backed against the Board in contravention of the full weight of evidence?

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  32. Cynic2 (profile) says:

    “Would that be the man Mr Murphy backed against the Board in contravention of the full weight of evidence?”

    …. yes, and perhaps this is a now a REAL crisis for DRD.

    Politically McKebnzie’s Head must be on the block for NIWs performance over the last 2 weeks ….but if he’s fired, who knows what revelations will emerge about what, where, when, who and, above all, why certain things were done in our own wee Watergate. Sod flooded houses and dehydrated pensioners – this could be a real problem.

    Let me make a forecast. He will go …. to protect Conor’s backside but with a nice wee settlement to ease his passage

    Its a shame this has all happened now. Losing one’s Perm Sec and the Head of NIW in 6 months and this shambles cant auger well for Conor’s bid to gradually ease himself into Gerry’s chair in de Nurth. All those announcements on spending millions on roads to nowhere from nowhere don’t cut the ice now

    And what of poor Martin. Sitting as a Director of NIW just weeks before he starts campaigning and facing the parched electors of West Belfast. Still, things like this never did the blessed bearded one any harm.

    By the way, at this seasonal time, is the bearded one still ‘resident’ in Louth, holidaying at his home in Donegal or walking the streets of West Belfast helping his constituents this week? Must be hard stopping the pipes freezing in all those properties and heating them on the average industrial wage

    Oh dear. Events dear boy, events!

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  33. Boglover (profile) says:

    One point missed so far in the above comments is DFM’s response to the BBC interviewer’s question about Water Rates, which was emphatic to say the least. “I would love to see all the well-heeled people, all the well-heeled economists and all the well-heeled know-alls who are arguing for the imposition of water charges on people who are suffering all sorts of deprivation; let them pay water charges if they want to – we’ll accept their money.”

    The above from http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00wwb80/BBC_Newsline_29_12_2010/ near the beginning

    OTOH, Owen Paterson said that while the Westminster government had a lot of pressures on its budget, it was also ready to help. He said Northern Ireland’s infrastructure had suffered over the years and that changes were now needed.

    “What will be looked at here is the difference in the way that water is paid for in the rest of the UK and the way it is paid for in Northern Ireland, where it is just an element of the rates,” he said.

    “I think what is clear is that the events of the last week or so will bring this to a head. It is a major issue that has to be resolved.”

    Comrade McGuinness has also clearly missed the fact that NIW is in the middle of a programme that is trying to sell off some of their “redundant” reservoirs, despite the opposition of the local people!

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  34. William Markfelt (profile) says:

    ‘Did no one at Northern Ireland Water, not anticipate that when the thaw came there would be leaks in their antiquated and already leaking mains system.’

    According to Liam Mulholland it’s the fault of the troubles, so it is.

    Ten years into a fragile peace, and NIW are still using this as an excuse. Not really good enough. There could and should have been ten years of investment behind us, rather than days of effective drought in front of us.

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  35. articles (profile) says:

    What’s the betting that Peter Robinson’s response will be to announce a hardship allowance or similar,or is the scale of the problem too big to allow for this?

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  36. The problem with a CEO appointed to deal with a bloated public service is that the focus is on cuts rather than specifically operational effieciency. Get the process right and the costs fall out; cut costs and the operations muddle through. Murphy focused on costs not operations because he believes in water as a ‘public service’ rather than a service to the public and ultimately perfectly suited to the private sector where (as with examples elsewhere on Slugger) has responded admirably. Sadly for him, as a public service (by his definition) the issue is a political one and ultimate responsibility. The only way to protect the Minister is to widen the scope of responsibility to the Executive Collective. So in hops DFM to take a lead in providing cover. Meanwhile on the ground… If ever there was a time for the UUP and SDLP to leave the two big parties to their collective mess it would be within the next month.

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  37. malairt (profile) says:

    The Regulator didn’t help either, insising on an utterly ludicrous 3 year capital settlement before he skipped off gaily back to the mainland. Serious investment required but not given, in a macho attempt to show that what England did in 25 years,NI could do in 5. Crackers.

    I caught Liam Mulholland on Sky yesterday and felt sorry for him – the current shambles is nothing to do with him as he has no influence over the investment programme nor the maintenance of the system. Although answering phones is in his remit right enough.

    The immediate blame lies with the so far invisible Sarah Venning as Ops Director and Laurence MacKenzie as CEO who should have had better preparations in place for the inevitable Big Thaw. Particularly poor that there was no contract in place for the supply of emergency bottled water – having to bring it in from Scotland is just shameful.

    Ultimately though, the blame lies with years and years of underinvestment and a complete avoidance of decision making by our politicians. The money for investment has to come from somewhere and we can’t pretend that water and sewerage supply is somehow free. So either continue to take funding out of the general exchequer at the expense of other areas of social spending or admit the inevitable and raise an appropriate charge that will over time prevent the kind of disaster that we’re seeing today. The former becomes even more unpalatable when you consider that there will have to be more investment than is already planned: houses or water? police or water? social welfare or water?

    The reason the rest of GB appear to be doing better in straitened times is better regulation and less interference from politicans.

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  38. Drumlins Rock (profile) says:

    As for the long term consequences, lets look back at this time last year….
    The DUP was in crisis, but a capable SF half of the coalition kept things going, ok Catrina was continuing to ruin the education system but the rest of the SF team seemed more or less on the ball, and many were privately saying Murphy was the one to watch for to take on either Gerry’s are Martin’s role in the future.
    A year on, the DUP have to return the favour, Murphy is up to his neck in it and still sinking, NIW’s annis horribilis is far from over and if McKenzie goes Murphy’s credibility is sunk too… and to top it all, be ready for the pothole crisis, it will begin to unroll by next weekend I predict…

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  39. DC (profile) says:

    @Although answering phones is in his remit right enough.

    I thought the phones were outsourced to Echo – a private firm or was that scrapped too?

    I was reading up on Scottish Water and it seems to run well as a publicly owned company and somewhat cheaper than in England.

    However, as you say Malairt, NI in comparison to Scotland has a far different history, Troubles related of course – but the investment history and infrastructure design are entirely different as well – so perhaps Scottish Water is chalk and cheese stuff.

    I think also the elephant in the room for me is the state of our regional government, duplication of first minister posts, no opposition, no way to remove the government, each and every party being in the government – all of this mitigates against quick and effective government – whether when elected as MLAs operating together, or as a democracy trying to remove those who we feel have been ineffective and shirking responsbility.

    The whole governance process is rigged to favour politicians and it will turn them into career politicians – the act of statute – like some sort of concrete support – will only serve to support and prop up an Assembly with each party always being in government that will in turn only breed mediocrity and inertia – and there will be no mechanism by which to pinpoint accountability; take even the budget – minister for Health says he ‘s not happy with his budget, main two parties SF&DUP say “ah but you’re in the Executive musn’t complain!”.

    Also, the two communities model is not useful as a governing framework because it filters policies and ideas through a very basic prism – the prod/catholic identity prism – such a simplistic approach to politics too simplistic, but I’m afraid therein lies the real problem. Trouble is it is so simplistic it will be very so difficult to remove and reform.

    So, my view is shifting to anti-State – particularly on the service delivery side, but my anti-state outlook isn’t to be mistaken for that one crystallised in the minds of the southern English and in particular held by the Tories – where they see themselves as the sponsors and are reluctant to pay out heavily for it; no my views – once pro now hardening anti-Statist in service delivery – are entirely Irish, generally the history of ‘the State’ in Ireland and very particularly the performance of our Ni politicians – the MLAs – over the last while.

    Better to have private contracts given out at a similar cost as what would be the case if they were run by the state (therefore this intervention isn’t about hardcore rationalisation and cuts to public services) because at least there would one good eye on performance and operations and the other on effective management in line with market discipline, the alternative has shown lots of State meddling and group think – part ideology – part grandstanding and macho behaviour – all of it mitigating against reform or change.

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  40. IJP (profile) says:

    Excellent post, Peter.

    This goes broader than NI Water, and speaks for a whole public service ethos in the senior echelons which too often refuses to recognise that services are required outside 9-5 and on holidays.

    Congratulations to those on the ground – not just in the statutory sector but also in the community sector – who have done so much to make this at least manageable.

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  41. DC (profile) says:

    - *mitigating should be *militating.

    Just to add, the private sector could be used to buy in the necessary project management skills – companies with a track record in delivering quality durable infrastructure etc.

    However money is money after all – that’s not to say water rates or the rates could go up to pay and cover new and improved water pipes and supply-side services out of the public purse.

    But as I say above – the whole political set up is rigged for career politics and politicians and MLAs will do what is easiest and close ranks as a group and blame others than themselves for the funding crisis. They do not want to raise rates or introduce additional charges – so it’s duck and cover time and point the finger at NI Water for a short term disaster which is the blow back from a problem that has been building up over the long term – lack of quality investment.

    I read Owen Polley’s opinion piece in the Belfast Tele today about Watergate Scandal – it is true that politicians allowed new build properties to go ahead despite them knowing full well the sewerage infrastructure was not in place to support the demand from existing properties – let alone more and more new houses. I know of this personally and Sammy Wilson was to blame at the time as far as I can remember, All of it was done following the same political mindset in the Republic: keep on building properties – keep on property flipping and keep on making big bucks and more fast and easy money for the developers – but in the process turning a blind eye to possible floods and sewage going into mains water supplies or flooding out untreated elsewhere.

    It was in the end irresponsible politics – on both sides of the border.

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  42. malairt (profile) says:

    Last I heard was that Echo were providing the call centre services, with their contract managed by Liam Mulholland as Customer Services Director.

    I saw Laurence on Sky at lunchtime today, flanked by Trevor Haslett, Engineering Director. That’s an odd choice as Trevor isn’t responsible for Operations,although as always he looks suitably serious and competent. Where is Ms Vanning, who is responsible for the operations side of NIW – including Customer Services?

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  43. fitzjameshorse1745 (profile) says:

    It would certainly be interesting if anyone from NI Water is awarded a bauble (along with “Sir” David Beckham and “Sir” William Roache) in the New Years “Honours”. Anyone here have sight of the proofs from the Belfast Gazette? :)

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  44. Trevor Haslett isn’t an odd choice to appear, because he is the only engineer on the board. He should replace Laurence MacKenzie until they find someone who is both a qualified water engineer and a qualified management accountant. I.e. someone who can account for the water, not just the money.

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  45. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    The reason the rest of GB appear to be doing better in straitened times is better regulation and less interference from politicans.

    Couple of problems with that.

    Firstly, Scotland’s water supply remains state-owned. A related point is that a lot of people are complaining that the government didn’t do enough. Which was the whole point of making the thing into a GoCo – to reduce the Minister’s status to that of a shareholder.

    Secondly, why introduce extra costs into the equation by adding the need to pay dividends to shareholders as well ? Do you think shareholders are going to sack a director who screws up on the disaster management as long as he delivers good financial results ? While infrastructure investment did increase in the privatized water utilities, the cost of the water service increased somewhat more.

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  46. malairt (profile) says:

    That would be a rare fish Dave – I’ve never met a C.Eng/CA. It takes too long to qualify for 2 disciplines for it to be a common feature of business life.

    Anyhoo, for accuracy, Trevor isn’t on the Board, he’s on the Exec Team. There are 2 engineers on the Board as Executive Directors, namely Gentleman George Butler Esq. and Sara Venning.

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  47. malairt (profile) says:

    @Comrade Stalin

    Scotland I think proves my point. Scottish Water remains 100% owned by the Scottish people but WICS (Water Industry Commissioners for Scotland) are firmly in control. Rumour has it that there was a 3 way pull for control at first between the Scottish Executive, WICS, and Scottish Water Execs which has settled down to a good working relationship. WICS as a responsible Regulator, politicians consulted but not directly responsible or accountable and SW in executive control. Funded through an extra line in the Council Tax bill which every householder has to pay.

    It was what the GoCo was intended to achieve. Sadly in NI we had a Department that didn’t want to stop meddling, a Board which was determined to act as a Ltd company should, and a Regulator who got carried away by his own cleverness and ego.

    The combination of Regulation to control income and costs and Shareholders requiring dividends has shown that reaching higher standards can be achieved. English water companies are far more cost effective now on every measure than NI Water. Cost per litre delivered, £ per km of pipework laid, environmental discharges per year etc etc. So I don’t get your last point I’m afraid.

    Finally, shareholders, or more accurately the Board, will cheerfully get rid of any director who’s causing embarrassment no matter how great his contribution to profits. You’re only as good as your last lunch and regrettably it’s now tea time! Boards are awfully unsentimental places and there’s always someone else looking to step up to have a shot at pulling the levers themselves.

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  48. None of the above can show what Stormont and the retired gunmen who reside there (when not on vacation ) can do to help the water or any other situation.
    Why not get rid of Stormont and reinvest the savings in infrastructural upgrades. Ex PIRAs like Murphy can only apportion blame and be perpetual Oliver Twists (More more more). But politics should be for grown ups not for the subsidised jerks of Stormont, who have nothing but hot air to offer.
    As long as PSF are given a say, nothing can improve. The PSF lot should follow Gerry Adams and f— off to Louth.

    As Conor Murphy is now blaming Westminster ofr lack of investment over the years, will he now condemn South Armagh PIRA, who targeted the infrastructure the British installed?

    PSF are a source of amusement. They are like a bad episode of Yews MInister.

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  49. joeCanuck (profile) says:

    Just to set the record straight, the first group to attack infastructure were the UVF who hoped that a dormant IRA would be blamed. That included blowing up the main water supply to Belfast. The gang were exposed when one electrocuted himself trying to blow up a main transformer at Ballyshannon.

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  50. IJP (profile) says:

    Alan56

    I’d missed your earlier post. It’s highly relevant.

    I guess I would say this wouldn’t I, but it doesn’t make it any less true: the media’s “anti-consultant” rants have led, in PR, to a tendency towards in-house appointments. This imposes on the communications team the same culture as exists in the rest of the organisation (and the public sector), including that work is something you do from 9.30am-5pm (excluding weekends [which themselves include Friday afternoons] and all public holidays). This is entirely inappropriate.

    PR is not a 9-5 profession (and nor is delivery of essential services). On the contrary, particularly for organisations like NI Water, it is anything but.

    In fact, if we dismissed all departmental/agency and NDPB press officers and replaced them with consultants, we would have a vastly better outcome – in terms both of communications (because consultants would have real experience of the practice not just the theory) and value-for-money (because consultants would be available 24/7 for a flat, part-time retainer). I’m not saying I would do that, by the way, just that in general this is an area where external consultants are better than in-house 9-5 “officers”.

    Of course, the real crime here is the assumption of a 9-5 working day, which is a nonsense when delivering essential services. Given the junior gritters were out on Christmas morning, can anyone tell me why precisely the Head of the Civil Service (on salaries many multiples of the gritters) had to wait until Wednesday this week to convene a meeting to discuss the matter? I note Wednesday was the first “working day” after Christmas but then, in the words of the great Father Dougal, I’m very cynical as you know…

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  51. JeanMeslier (profile) says:

    AlanMaskey
    “..PSF are a source of amusement. They are like a bad episode of Yews MInister…”

    And you wake up every morning/afternoon and check and they’re still here.

    ps
    “Yews Mlnister”?
    Have i missed some new exciting TV programme or are we just finishing off the Xmas sherry?

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  52. Pigeon Toes (profile) says:

    http://thejuice.matm.co.uk/2010/12/30/public-relations-is-a-critical-factor-in-the-northern-ireland-water-shortage-crisis/

    “There are a number of things, from a PR point of view, that go down well during such a crisis:
    Sincere and often repeated apologies for the inconvenience caused
    Visible leadership for customer relations and crisis resolution
    Provision of information through multiple channels
    Clear communication of what is being done and why
    Evidence of support by stakeholders
    And, not forgetting, effective advice on where to get help
    Place your bets now on this being seen as a PR disaster as much as an operational one, when the dust settles and the water starts to flow again.”

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  53. joeCanuck (profile) says:

    Agree, Pigeon Toes.
    The number one priority in any emergency apart from dealing with the problem is communication with the public. Looks like NIW failed totally in that respect.

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