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Mr Dixon has also withdrawn his previous remarks directly in a private letter (which contains private information and for that reason we are not yet making it public) which has also sent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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