NI Water: What was Dixon’s competence to adjudicate on a GoCo/NDPB?

Gerry Loughran’s letter to John Dallat re NI Water makes for interesting reading (Update: the BBC covered the letter story this evening). Loughran is Peter Dixon’s Chair at Phoenix Gas, and a former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service. In his response leaves both John Dallat, and Paul Maskey, the chair of the PAC whom he dutifully copies in, in no doubt of his view of Mr Dixon’s intemperate outburst the week before last:

Mr Dixon was aggrieved by what he interpreted as unfair comments. He has very limited knowledge of the Assembly’s accountability processes and in particular the work of the PAC. I have now explained all this to him and he wishes me to acknowledge that, in the light of his better understanding, the terms of his letter dated 5th July 2010 are not justified and he wishes to withdraw the letter.[Emphasis added]*

Mr Dixon has also withdrawn his previous remarks directly in a private letter (which contains private information and for that reason we are not yet making it public) which has also sent to Paul Maskey (who had not been planning to deal with this matter until the PAC returned on 9th September).

As it happens, the PAC may have larger problems to address by then. In the meantime, it was left to the Chair of Phoenix Gas to close out his CEO’s outburst with John Dallat rather than the Committee chair. In the process Loughran may have also earned himself a little public distance (which could be useful a little further down the line) by making it crystal clear that – in his public letter writing at least – Dixon was way out of his depth.

But it also raises this question for the Permanent Secretary (who appointed the IRT):

If in the view of his own company chair Mr Dixon has such a ‘limited understanding’ of how governmental accountability operates, what made you decide that Peter Dixon was suitably qualified to adjudicate upon the complex governance of a GoCo/NDGB?

* BTW, it is also worth noting that in the legitimate business world, the CEO is answerable to chair and not the other way around. Tomorrow we will be looking more closely at the precise chain of events which led to the dismissal of the four NEDs, and, in particular the timing of the decision making process that led to the dismissal of the four NEDs.

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  • Pigeon Toes

    This is gob-smacking stuff…

    “But this also raises this question for the Permanent Secretary: If in the view of his own company chair Mr Dixon has such a ‘limited understanding’ of how governmental accountability operates, what made you decide that Peter Dixon was suitably qualified to adjudicate upon the complex governance of a GoCo/NDGB?”

    Presumably though he did have permission from his employer to undertake the Independent Review?

  • Mick Fealty

    Read the letter PT!

    Loughran clearly lays out the company policy in that regard. I’ve just not got the time to transcribe it all to the blog.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Er I would, but the link doesn’t work for me!!

  • Mick Fealty

    It’s probably WordPress’s way of doing things that’s confusing matters. The link is to another Slugger page which contains the actual link. I agree it is odd and counterintuitive, but that’s how it treats all embeds, even pictures.

  • Drumlin Rock

    Somebody has been hung out to dry!

  • Pigeon Toes

    It sounds as if he will be on the “naughty step” for quite some time!

  • Cynic

    Dreadful shambles but the Perm Sec is safe. If they took him out the Minister would be left exposed.

    However, the real risk for DRD (or DRED as its now known) is what happens if some of the NEDs sue for alleged breach of contract or defamation. That would be fun.

  • Pigeon Toes

    I sincerely hope they do, as assume they may have deeper pockets than others who have encountered similar issues.

    Though would it not be a wee bit difficult for the DRD to justify further use of public money in their defence?

    Is it possible that Mr Priestly might retire on “ill health” grounds …

  • funnyold world

    Now that Dixon has been completely disowned by his Chairman and presumably his Board, what are the odds that he could be the first casualty to depart the scene a much chastened and diminished individual!!

    The mess that has been created here in the removal of the Non Executives is simply not going to go away, until a proper review is undertaken to get to the bottom of what really happened.

    With Dixon (or his advisors) having scored a spectacular own goal I assume Jackie Henry (Deloitte) and Glenn Thompson (Consultant) will attempt to keep their heads down, but I feel this will only be a temporary respite for them!

    Each day brings yet another revealation and I have it on good authority that the real juice hasn’t even begun to flow!

    If that is true it is going to a hot summer for some people!

  • William Markfelt

    ‘a much chastened and diminished individual!!’

    Ah! I really must re-read ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’, because it very much looks like it is being played out, for real, in the framework of the NI Assembly.

    The only question that remains to be answered is who, in our own real life ‘Masters of the Universe’ vertical descent, is who wins the Pulitzer Prize.

    Mick?

    You got any theories on this, man?

  • William Markfelt

    Hopefully no ‘ill health’ grounds, PT.

    Mr. Preistly has still got a LOT of questions to answer as to his conduct during certain aspects of the Rathlin Island ferry contract debacle.

    Now, an Inquiry into the in-the-round behaviour of the DRD, across several issues, and several years, I’m in favour of.

    And while we’re at it, perhaps an Inquiry into various government departments liking for the ignoring of due process.

    One good thing that might come out of all of this is that the ‘show trials’ may actually cease.

  • William Markfelt

    I’m printing ‘Justice for the NIW 4’ T shirts as we speak.

    We’re close to tipping point. It’s just a pity that the key players might be able to cobble some retirement package together.

    They f***ed up all round, and took on the appearance of dodgy second hand car dealers in front of the PAC.

    Surely the right thing to do is to sack all of those involved, and make it clear that it’s incompetence they’re being sacked for, along with loss of pension and so on? ‘Incompetence’ will look great on the CV when they’re on the NED merry go round. Anything else looks like a ‘reward’, when we all know they have to go for lies and videotape (or the digital ‘Democracy Live’ equivalent of it).

    As for the sex, I think it’ll probably ooze out of the hip swivelling King karaoke night, coming to a bar near you, quite soon.

  • William Markfelt

    I’m a firm believer in karma, Drumlin.

    ‘The shit that you dole out returns to you’.

    I don’t think that’s quite how the Bhagavad Gita puts it, but you get the idea.

    Hung out to dry? Head on a pike for three days is rather more the ticket.

  • Mick Fealty

    No theories. Just a growing set of practical questions like the one stated above. I don’t want to quantify or qualify the extent of the problem until I have a better idea of what it might be.

    It is not every day you see a board hand over their CEO so publicly and in the process raise such profound questions about the ability of their man. In a more open world, that is what you might expect given foolish nature Dixon’s attack.

    So back to the question (above) that the PAC will almost certainly want to ask Mr Priestly, if, in the meantime, it can find further reason to recall him and his colleagues.

  • Cynic

    A fiver says they dont

  • Pigeon Toes

    I’d bet my home on it….

  • William Markfelt

    ‘In the process Loughran may have also earned himself a little public distance (which could be useful a little further down the line) by making it crystal clear that – in his public letter writing at least – Dixon was way out of his depth.’

    It’s the self-preservation society.

    We don’t know what Loughran feels. We only know what he has said in public about Dixon. The two positions may be some distance apart.

    Loughran has opted to save his own skin here. As Mick says, it may be useful further down the line, not least in respect of finding continuing employment, as well as fending off awkward questions (assuming anyone is going to ask them in the context of government. Apparently the likes of the PAC aren’t interested in the words of anyone not directly involved in government agencies. So the PAC can’t call Loughran on any of this without breaking their own rules). So Loughran is ‘safe’, so to speak, from the PAC, despite playing a minor role in the matter.

    The Perm Sec. now looks even more idiotic, and with suspect judgement, based on the question Mick poses. PAC may want to put that to him, but it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Priestly will now, in turn, stab Louughran’s back, just to make himself look ever so slightly better. At this stage, I don’t think it’s particularly do-able. Priestly has to be finished.

    It’s car-crash politics. No matter how much you might want to look away, you can’t. You want to see more blood, more amputated limbs (although thus far Priestly and McKenzie seem to have been suffering severe brain and ego injuries).

    I have every faith in the old boys club still managing to engineer a win for its players. One or two players will serve out their period in the naughty corner before returning with the same sense of being a Master of the Universe as before, indiscretions conveniently forgotten.

    The blueprint for this course of action comes from within the NIA itself, and Ian Junior’s brief sackcloth and ashes episode before bouncing back. Mark my words, if Priestly or McKenzie or anyone else goes, the system will welcome them back into the fold, an NED or consultancy job, within 18 months.

    Fully expect Dixon to be supported, as far as he is able, by Priestly, and for one or both to challenge Loughran’s claims.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Fillean meal ar an meallaire.

  • William Markfelt

    Tenner says Priestly challenges Loughran’s assessment of Dixon’s credentials in order to put some clear blue water between himself (Priestly) and accusations of appointing a nincompoop, thereby undermining his, Priestly’s, own judgement.

    Exactly as Loughran is doing now to put some clear blue water between himself and Dixon.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “Priestly will now, in turn, stab Louughran’s back, just to make himself look ever so slightly better. At this stage, I don’t think it’s particularly do-able. Priestly has to be finished.”

    I wouldn’t imagine it’s do-able at all, given that Mr Loughran was once the Head of NI Civil Service, and Mr Priestly’s boss…

  • Mick Fealty

    Cynic,

    That would be your own self professed cynicism speaking, I take it?

    Nothing is guaranteed here. The chair is perfectly entitled to push back on any frivolous request for a recall. It is only likely if compelling new evidence comes to light.

    I know some PAC members are very open to citizens bringing forward information both to them directly, or via the chair so that the whole committee is better appraised of the complexities of this case.

    My guess is that the more information that’s exposed to public scrutiny in this case, the greater the likelihood of that recall occurring.

    In other words, stop gurning and start weaving!

  • William Markfelt

    Oh, I have every faith in Priestly doing whatever is required to save his own skin.

    Here’s an interesting wee link.

    http://www.businesseye.co.uk/stories/?issueid=18&storyid=62

    Dixon is ‘charismatic’, a word I think we should now define as code for ‘incompetent’.

    Phoenix are coming off the back of an ‘annus horribilis’, according to the report. Oh, how Dixon may have wished for a crystal ball to gaze into the future and determine that, from a personal perspective, his annus horribilis was a few years off.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘I know some PAC members are very open to citizens bringing forward information both to them directly, or via the chair so that the whole committee is better appraised of the complexities of this case.’

    Disagree.

    The Chair is repeatedly reluctant to allow information to be brought directly, most recently in permitting Chris Mellor to bring information directly to them.

    I can see no reason why Mr. Mellor could not have provided oral testimony to PAC, but it looks like it was Maskey who knocked him back. Maskey has previous in this approach, as Hansard reveals.

    As for the public bringing information, aren’t we running into the brick wall of ‘an MLA must sponsor you’ regulations? I cannot see how this might work, as I guess that sponsoring awkward questions inevitably impacts on party colleagues or party policy, so the culture is to discourage awkward questions from awkward members of the public.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘The chair is perfectly entitled to push back on any frivolous request for a recall. It is only likely if compelling new evidence comes to light.’

    Who gets to determine what is ‘frivolous’?

    This is faintly reminiscent of FOI requests, which can also be pushed back is determined to be ‘vexatious’.

  • Pigeon Toes

    http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons/lib/research/briefings/snpc-04909.pdf

    “This potential unfairness adds weight, in our view, to the conclusion that the offence should be strictly confined but we do not propose to develop the point or to consider further the question of what, for present purposes, constitutes a public office.” So who holds a public office and as a result can be guilty of this offence? According to the Court of Appeal, which quoted from the earlier authorities, it requires that the defendant “must be a public officer acting as such …. There must be a breach of duty by the officer, [which is wilful and which is such that the conduct is] an affront to the standing of the public office held. The threshold is a high one requiring conduct so far below acceptable standards as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in the office holder” (Para 56). And later, quoting from the case of Bembridge [(1783) 3 Doug KB 32], “those who hold public office carry out their duties for the benefit of the public as a whole and, if they abuse their office, there is a breach of the public’s trust” (Para 57).
    Charging Practice
    Like perverting the course of justice, misconduct in public office covers a wide range of conduct. It should always be remembered that it is a very serious, indictable only offence carrying a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. A charge of misconduct in public office should be reserved for cases of serious misconduct or deliberate failure to perform a duty which is likely to injure the public interest.”

  • Mick Fealty

    He does.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘it was left to the Chair of Phoenix Gas to close out his CEO’s outburst with John Dallat rather than the Committee chair. In the process Loughran may have also earned himself a little public distance (which could be useful a little further down the line) by making it crystal clear that – in his public letter writing at least – Dixon was way out of his depth.’

    All of this is becoming slightly confusing. As far as I can, Dixon’s only mistake was to use Phoenix Gas notepaper to write his letter.

    As far as I can see, it’s sod all to do with Loughran, and surely Dixon has the right to fire broadsides at PAC.

    And, even more, if it’s pissing some of the MLAs off, that looks like a result.

    Right now, the entire Loughran angle looks like a cul-de-sac of irrelevance, to me.

    Sadly, Dixon has compounded his note-writing by then not having the balls to stand over his remarks, and backing down.

  • Pigeon Toes

    William, what accepting the invitation to be part of the IRT when there may have been a conflict of interest?

    Though seemingly Mr Loughran has gifted him a “get out of jail free card” on that particular issue, at least as far as his position his position within Phoenix is concerned.

    Whether that’s enough to save him remains to be seen…

  • Pigeon Toes

    “I know some PAC members are very open to citizens bringing forward information both to them directly, or via the chair so that the whole committee is better appraised of the complexities of this case.’”

    Hmm well that’s awfully democratic of them, with being elected pubic representatives. How honoured we citizens should feel, in that our elite may on a whim decide to listen to our point of view!

    The PAC could be in danger of replicating the mistakes of the IRT, and deciding on where the axe is to fall prior to the conclusion of due process, and before the full facts are known.

    Those members of PAC, leaking material should be consistent and make public some of the other information/correspondence they are sitting on!!

    I also doubt Peter Dixon will be writing to them again in a hurry …

  • William Markfelt

    PT,

    I don’t get the conflict of interest regarding Phoenix Gas. Surely Dixon takes on a role on an IRT on its own merits, separate from his function in PNG?

    Of course, as you say, Loughran playing the ‘Free’ card theoretically could suck PNG into the mire, as it seems like a move that could be construed as a protectionist tactic for a mate.

    I think Dixon has to be gone, and the best option would be to do it himself, right now, on his own terms, rather than almost inevitably be made to look even more foolish and even more unemployable as a result of future events (and even then, despite and maybe because of being gone, he could still end up more foolish and more unemployable.

    I would have imagined Loughran’s best option would have been to distance PNG’s general outlook from that of Dixon. As things stand, it rather looks like Loughran (another one who appears not to understand the complexities of business) is chewing off one of his own feet right now.

  • Drumlin Rock

    William, the SF Chair is not the entire membership of the PAC, also he has a vested interest in protecting his party’s “strongest” minister, I hope the rest of the committee will not allow this to happen. I think protocols should be changed so that the vice should take the chair when a party coleagues department is under scrutiny.

  • William Markfelt

    The chair is immaterial, Drumlin. I don’t imagine the rules would alter with Beggs in the seat. As the chair, however, Maskey is the one left making the statements, hence my constant referral to him as he’s essentially the figurehead of the PAC.

    However, Maskey’s chairing of PAC is interesting, in that his membership of a party that quite rightly objected to the Diplock Court system for years now finds itself essentially supportive of a similar ‘no jury’ system when applied to those either brought up -or even more importantly not allowed to be brought- before it.

    Show trials? Show me the difference between Diplock and what the PAC indulges in. What might John Dallat make of this apparent hypocrisy.

    I suspect that someone like Beggs would reflexively be in favour of these kangaroo courts, since the political system he broadly represents said jack shit about them for years, but it’s slightly shocking to find Maskey propping up a total disregard of due process, cross-examination, the presence of witnesses, etc, etc.

  • Mick Fealty

    William, not everything in life has to be hauled before a fully convened court of law. For good or ill these men and women are voted in and as far as I can see the committee system is the only teeth they have. They should not be afraid to use them in the form of intelligent, incisive and above all informed questioning.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘William, not everything in life has to be hauled before a fully convened court of law. For good or ill these men and women are voted in and as far as I can see the committee system is the only teeth they have. They should not be afraid to use them in the form of intelligent, incisive and above all informed questioning.’

    It does when there’s accusations of wrongdoing be bandied around, Mick, and those accused appear to have no right of reply. Chris Mellor, again. That family ‘disappeared’ from NI.

    Funny how it’s the DRD who repeatedly turn up in these utter disasters.

    If there are accusations of wrongdoing being bandied around, it seems that this stuff NEEDS to be tested in a court of law, rather than whatever uncontested drivel can be presented by what I think we know, in some of these cases, are proven liars at worst, ‘economical with the truth’ at best.

    I don’t think that a committee, with parliamentary privilege, represents ‘teeth’ at all. It represents bullying, and a disregard for due process.

    Now, of course, if we look at it in terms of the PAC, then there’s a bit of muscle flex going on to demonstrate how hard they are. If you look at it from the perspective of those denied a voice -Chris Mellor, the ‘disappeared’ family- then it’s worthless and pointless. It strikes me that if accusations of a certain type are to be bandied around, then -if not in a court of law- then a right of reply should exist before the PAC.

    And accusations, if they don’t stick, should then be liable to the laws of slander, libel or defamation.

    We’ve seen this before, where x, y or z politicians (usually DUP ones) are very quick to use parliamentary privilege to accuse a, b or c of being terrorists, but lack the balls to repeat those accusations outside parliament. That’s not ‘teeth’, that’s bullying and defamation. The same applies here. If it can’t be proven that Chris Mellor and the other NEDs didn’t do anything wrong, then they should have an unfair dismissal case. That we can’t hear Mr. Mellor, or the other NEDs version of events makes it exceptionally difficult to draw any conclusions, either as an ordinary Joe in the street, or as a member of the PAC. Basically what PAC are getting are skewed, flawed versions of events, skewed to suit the government agency making them.

    That is no system of fairness, justice or due process, so in many, many of these instances, where members of the public, or non-governmental figures (Mellor, etc) are defamed, in a sense, then there should be a right of reply, and one that isn’t just a letter gathering dust in the wastebin of PAC members.

    Priestly and McKenzie’s star turn on Democracy Live demonstrated that at least some of the PAC members were neither intelligent, incisive or informed.

    I’d name names of those who I thought were piss poor, wre it not for the fact that it puts me straight down the McKenzie route of a single person making a determination. I’ll leave it for other correspondents to Slugger to make their own judgement on the performances.

    And if the comments of John Dallat (show trials) are taken at face value, it would appear even HE -from within- doesn’t hold the entire charade to be top drawer politics or justice. He calls it for what it is: a show trial. And that is precisely what must end. These cases should either go to court, for a properly convened court yo determine guilt, innocence, right or wrong, or else the committee system needs overhauled, root and branch, to afford those having fingers pointed at them a proper, recognised right of reply.

  • Ciaran S

    I’m a bit new to all this so forgive me if i haven’t read every single aspect of the detail or understand the timings of the various statements and letters.

    What I have read however in detail is the report into the review of governance at NI Water, the finding and recommendations. And I think it is absolutely spot on. Maybe not direct enough. But certainly highlights a long period of incompetence by an organisation and complete disregard for due process spending what is in effect tax payers money.

    I also read that the work of Dixon was done at a pro bono basis, and I presume he was invited to do so because Phoenix would be regarded by many in the business community as an extremely well run and efficient utility business.

    And there is this argument raising its head about whether or not he was qualified to undertake this assessment of NI Water.

    The question really is whether or not people in the private sector really understand what the ettiquette is around the PAC or how the various parlimentary rules that apply? I don’t have a clue, nor do I need to know. Most people in the private sector don’t but that doesn’t make them incapable or unqualified to appraise an organisation or identify the faults with it. I would have thought the person heaidng up one of the best models of a utility locally is very well qualified

    But all this drama takes the focus away from the fact that NI Water has been a shambles for a very long time and I am no clearer now as to how that is going to change than I was when I read the report. I havn’t seen a statement from the Minister to say what he is going to do about it and by when, if its out there, can someone show me? It would help me understand what teh Departments true agenda actually is.

    I see the NED’s have gone and no doubt the claims against the organisation will start. Who has replaced them? Who is running this basket case at the moment? I am hoping it is a group people with extremely strong track records in running major organisations with ideally a detailed understanding of the utility business models and certainly a thorough understanding of corporate governance – people with the expertise and experience to sort the shambles out. With the decks being cleared there would have been a great opportunity by the Minister to get top quality people in who will address the significant issues within NI Water and begin to create an efficient GoCo.

    So all this stuff about Dixon and a letter and what letterhead it was on, is all a bit of a side show and I don’t see why really people care that much. It looks to me that the guy was asked to help, did a chunk of work on a pro bono basis, got someone’s back up who had a bit of a public dig at him and he reacted. Big deal. With hindsight, its maybe better to sleep on things before commtting thing in writing. But I’ve done it myself. I take criticism personally as do many. And most of us don’t have a public profiles to protect. I would imagine who was criticised very publictly on the News or the front of the Belfast Telegraph would react. The thing is when politicians or MLA’s do it they have aides who carefully deliberate responses and craft forms of words etc but those in the private sector do not have that machine behind them to temper responses.

    But I’d much rather have a CEO of a business who spoke his mind than the typical meally mouthed “civil servanty” pandering to committees and such. I think direct is good, There is nowhere near enough of it. I like people like RyanAir’s Michael O’Leary who says exactly as it is, has the balls to put the boot in at times about issues he is passionate about but doesn’t dodge issues. Direct and to the point suits me very well. And maybe very occasionally he might settle a libel case or two but the PR spin he gets from it always outweighs the cost.

    I’m not suggesting we all turn into Michael O’Leary’s but maybe that is the problem with Northern Ireland politics at the moment. Too much faffing around and putting off serious decisions to remain populist and not enough straight talking. We need some honesty in politics here, and serious tenacity about getting on an sorting this economy out.

    I have no idea who all the posters are on this blog or the range of the readership but have never been comfortable when people can make statements and hide behind a false identity. But what I have read just this evening on this all looks a bit petty. Lets ask some serious questions and hold some people to account for NI water and the mess it is in and those who created it, rather than stuff about who wrote what on what letterhead. I’d like to see the Minister coming out and saying “NI Water has been is a bloody joke, I’m going to fix it, now you watch me, starting tomorrow ! ” 🙂

    I’m not wanting to trivialise anything but there is a serious recession out there and people across all sectors should be uniting to build a stronger regional ecomony so that everyone can benefit. Forgive the simplicity of this reponse and no doubt some will shoot it down but thats just the way I see it.

    Thanks
    Ciaran

  • observer

    fair play to Ciaran S – now this sounds like a man who knows a thing or two about running a utility! And knows a thing or two about Peter Dixon. And don’t knock simplicity Ciaran – nothing wrong with being a simple soul.

  • William Markfelt

    Great post, Ciaran.

    One point: you appear to offer semi-tacit support for the McKenzie approach.

    Which is fair enough on the basis that he should be afforded a right of reply and reserves the right to do it in whatever way he can. In that respect, ‘Phoneix notepaper’ may just be a clever ploy on his part to maximise publicity he might not have got (certainly Loughran’s subsequent interjection would have never occurred and added some column inches to this forum and the BBC’s coverage).

    Although, that said, withdrawing the letter subsequently demonstrates the man has no ‘nads when it comes to making a point and sticking to it.

    Which then brings us back to his initial claims of ‘poor value for money’. We still don’t know the detail of what exactly was assumed to be poor value, simplly one man’s claim that £x spread across x days looked expensive. But that does not make for a ‘poor value for money’ case. It remains, as of now, just one man’s opinion.

    In these cases never underestimate the capacity for certain people to become the victims of personal vendetta. I’m not inferring this occurred here, but there are instances where public criticism of management figures in these bodies subsequently leads to the criticiser being hung for no other reason than personal slight. Equally, accusers are sometimes motivated by being knocked back regarding brown envelope culture, and simply slash and burn the honest until a compliant array of brown envelope suppliers exist to feather the nest, in fact, to feather both nests.

    Until we hear the details of the case Ms Holmes is taking aganst others, we cannot guess at whether there may be other motivations for a single man’s ‘poor value for money’ claims.

    In fact, currently, the claims of ‘poor value for money’ appear flimsy. It’s one man’s opinion who takes that opinion to another man and he says ‘that’s awful, let’s have an investigation’. Thus far, that investigation does not, as far as we know, include much in the way of a review of NIW’s internal audits which, previously, didn’t pick up on these issues. Now, either the claims of ‘bad value’ are wrong, or the NIW’s internal review team are piss poor, or a couple of guys acting in isolation have started a ball rolling while having a ‘very limited understanding’ of where this might all go. Judging from the shiftiness, twitchy body language and economy of truth before a piss poor PAC, it suggests that neither of the key players expected this to go where it has done, in quite such a public manner.

    I will take you up on the false identity remark, though. Everyone can be who they wish to be, for reasons of their own (and it’s easier, certainly on the tribal political threads, in which I have no interest, to shout ‘KAT’ or ‘FTQ’ from the safety of a pseudonym), and sometimes it’s preferable to use a pseudonym for whatever reasons. Does ‘Ciaran S’ actually tell us who YOU are? Are you even called ‘Ciaran’? Sometimes it pays to be a little more circumspect, regarding identity, on matters such as these. If users wish to use pseudonyms, that’s their choice.

  • William Markfelt

    Oh, by the way Ciaran, I’ve already made the point three or four posts up about the Loughtran-Dixon accord being pretty much a cul-de-sac, in my opinion.

    In fact, it is wholly possible that it is a diversionary tactic. Time will tell, if and when PAC recall the players.

    Right now, I’m of the opinion that it’s not coincidental that it was practically PAC’s last item of business before the summer recess. The hope is that this will have died a death by October. The hope is that ‘it will have gone away, you know?’

  • Mick Fealty

    Ciaran,

    Many thanks for this very useful contribution. The problem with this story is the degree to which it remains submerged and subject to the fulfilment on FOI requests.

    What you say would be reasonable in isolation. It is in the context of other elements arising around the manner (rather than the fact) in which the NEDs were dispatched, which make Loughran’s letter the critical agent in posing the question.

    I’ve no doubt Mr Dixon (who sounds a personable soul by all accounts) is competent enough to run a company, but his own Chair makes it clear that his understanding of how a government runs its business is ‘very limited’.

    In which case, I think it is perfectly legitimate to ask why Mr Priestly appointed him to the IRT?

    William is eloquent on the nature of the PAC as Kangaroo Court. And I absolutely see where he is coming from. But the truth is that these guys can only act on the quality of evidence they have before them. Those who departed from the civil service prepared question sheet did so because:

    a, their party structure has an independent research capacity that enabled them to attack from their own angle;
    b, they had enough nouse and ‘cop on’ to read the report with critical intelligence;
    c, they have enough contacts on the ground to hear the ‘jungle drums’ and act accordingly;
    d, they had some high quality intelligence which allowed them drop in highly focused questions, the answers to some of which may cause some of the witnesses embarrassment further down the line.

    This suggests we need more independent thinking and out of house research. Whatever comes in to the PAC FOI information, volunteered material will go towards making the next session a more deliberative assembly.

    Besides, what other way is there to bring the near absolute power of patronage (‘You’ll never work in this, or any, town ever again’) enjoyed by Stormont Mandarins to account?

    In the Republic (weak though its committee system is) department heads factor into their activities the fact that they will be called to account for what they do from one year to the next. There has to be some level of fear factor, albeit not a debilitating one.

    If this story has an upside, it is that we have glimpsed life inside the civil service. Not comprehensively of course, but enough to see that one can barely move around any form of decision without bumping into a consultant from one of the big four accountancy firms in Belfast.

    Leave aside the amount of outspend in Northern Ireland Water (which for all the huge amounts quoted, no real value for money calculation comes attached), £27k to Deloitte for one of the ropiest reports I’ve read in a long while looks to me to very poor value.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘Besides, what other way is there to bring the near absolute power of patronage (‘You’ll never work in this, or any, town ever again’) enjoyed by Stormont Mandarins to account?’

    Mick,

    Yesterday you floated the story http://sluggerotoole.com/2010/07/21/stormont-inertia-blocking-future-fdi-to-the-ni-economy/

    of the problem of Stormont being problematic to the future of the NI economy. Disappointingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, of less interest to Slugger readers.

    We constantly hear of how the NI ‘economy’ is over-reliant on government largesse, directly or indirectly, and it appears that your comment about ‘never working in this town again’ hits the nail on the head.

    One problem (although not directly linked to NIW or anyone else) is that the mandarins know they have many, many couples over a barrel, being reliant on securing government contracts. Value for money? Look at it from the other perspective. Could it be that government is screwing companies whose approach may be that very, very small profit margins, or break even, is better than no work at all?

    Is THAT the purpose of government of the people? To keep them hanging on what could be very poor profit margins, simply because they can? Is there an accepted profit margin in which companies can offer services? Even if there is, will competitors undercut them just to get the work?

    Sorry to go off on a bit of a tangent, but I think the point is worth making that ‘value for money’ -the key element of the NIW story- also works both ways.

  • Ciaran S

    Thanks Mike, the comments were in isolation and a response to an interesting thread. The real issue I think is sorting NI Water .

    For what it is worth, I think the activities over years in NI Water are a consequence to the change in trying to turn a public enterprise into a GoCo and I really don’t understand how this hybrid can every be really effective. Maybe the answer lies in looking at the Mutual Model following the same structure as Dwr Crymu where profits are generated but are used to offset water costs for all consumers rathe rthan pay dividends to shareholders. There are good examples of how Mutuals work well in this space but that is another debate entirely.

    And I think you are right Mike about this story giving an insight into life inside the public sector, the overreliance on consultants and the levels of acccountability or intense scrutiny people are under. I’m kind of glad I work in the private sector 🙂

    To respond to Williams point, am happy you take me up on the identity remark. In stating that its hard to know who you are dealing with in blogs, I’m not suggesting that people can’t retain their right to be anonymous and their reasons for doing so. I think its easier to put a comment in context if you know the perspective from which it comes. I’m not putting my full details on or the nature of my business only because I don’t want to be subject to any form of attack but Ciaran is my real name, I’ve always been employed in the private sector (probably explains my lack of knowledge on the mechanics of the wider issues being raised by MIke) but have also had a lot of exposure to the public and voluntary sectors through other activities I have been involved in over the last ten years or or. I have the same desire as most in helping to build a thriving local economy that benefits everyone and that must be supported by an efficient public sector.

    I think the point might have been missed about all sectors uniting to drive this place forward is really where my interest lies. I don’t suppport the “private sector good, public sector bad” viewpoint but think that closer collaboration between the private and public sectors is vital. And we all need lessons on how the other sectors we are not involved in work. We do need more cross-sector working and the issues raised by the this incident I have no doubt will put experienced people from the private sector off using their experience for the benefit of public sector.

    But perhaps most importantly we need a political and governance framework that is not just efficient but encourages decision making while ensuring accountability -not stiffling growth or entrepreneurism and drives the positive change agenda. We simply don’t have that. We have an over indulgence in red tape, bureaucracy etc. When you look at the performance of the Assembly and what has really been achieved since devolution in improving the local economy we have a long way to go. How has the SME sector, which is the most significant element of the private sector, benefitted from interventions from the Assembly in the last two years? I read on another thread on this site about the economic committee producing a strategu by March 2011, it begs the question what have you been doing for the last two years!

    Which I guess ultimately gets back to the initial point about things being better if everyone focused on the big issues and not all the other stuff.
    Thanks

  • Pigeon Toes

    ” I think its easier to put a comment in context if you know the perspective from which it comes. I’m not putting my full details on or the nature of my business only because I don’t want to be subject to any form of attack but Ciaran is my real name,”

    1. How would knowing someone’s real name but a comment into context?
    2. I’m not putting my full details on or the nature of my business only because I don’t want to be subject to any form of attack but Ciaran is my real name,”
    That will possibly be why others use a “false identity” or nickname or pen-name….
    3. “Mike” is also known as Mick

  • funnyoldworld

    “27k for one of the ropiest reports I’ve read in a long time” Mick

    “Show trials cost money” John Dallat

    A partner from DELOITTE linked to both statements, and Chairing a 3 man Review Team -one of which (Dixon) who has illustrated a total lack of understanding of Governance-
    and you have to ask who is holding DELOITTE and their partner Jackie Henry to account for taking 27k of taxpayers money for one of the “ropiest reports” read in a long time?
    Never mind the tornado of speculation swirling around what has really gone as a consequence of their work?