Consumer Council CEO: “Trust has broken down between some of the partners in the Partnership Agreement”

Strange timing by the Chief Executive of the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland,  Antoinette McKeown, to declare that the body is withdrawing from the Stakeholders Partnership Agreement with NI Water and the Department for Regional Development.

The UTV report suggests the release of emails between McKeown and Laurence MacKenzie was the cause of the breakdown of trust…

In an unprecedented move, the Consumer Council says it has now lost trust in the company and the Government Department led by Conor Murphy.

“To leak or withhold information does a great disservice to consumers,” Ms McKeown said on Monday.

“Trust has broken down between some of the partners in the Partnership Agreement. This isn’t about the Consumer Council; it is about consumers not having a full and accurate picture and that is simply not right. Until such times as we can be assured that the Partnership Agreement will be honoured and trust restored by all stakeholders agreeing to be transparent in their dealings, we cannot be a part of it.

“There is a need to sit down to re-define the roles and relationships between all water stakeholders and trust has to be at the heart of that exercise. “

But those cozy emails were released some time ago [20 August post].

And hasn’t the Minister, Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy, swept the Board at NI Water?  And put his own placemen into position?  Isn’t the current Chief Executive the man whom everyone supports?

So which partners specifically does Antoinette McKeown, and the Consumer Council, no longer trust?

And what were the answers to her questions for the Minister?

Adds  According to the BBC report

[Antoinette McKeown] “The view of the Consumer Council is that when information that is shared between the Consumer Council and NI Water is leaked in such a way that it misrepresents our position on Northern Ireland Water that is not fair and not acceptable to consumers.

“Also, if information is withheld by the Department for Regional Development from the Consumer Council in relation to the appointment of non-executive directors, that is also unfair to consumers,” she said.

And Worth noting the official statement by the Consumer Council yesterday

The Consumer Council has announced that it is withdrawing from the Water Stakeholders Partnership Agreement1 (Partnership Agreement) due to a breakdown in trust.

Consumer Council Chairperson, Rick Hill and Chief Executive, Antoinette McKeown informed NI Water’s (NIW’s) Interim Chair Padraic White and Chief Executive Laurence Mackenzie and Department for Regional Development (DRD) Minister Conor Murphy MP, MLA of the decision at separate meetings earlier today.

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  • Drumlin Rock

    Another rat jumps overboard, Ms McKeown need not think she should escape scrutiny that easily, remember her role in backing up the decision to sack the NEDs was vital to it receiving credibility in the eyes of the public.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘The UTV report suggests the release of emails between McKeown and Laurence MacKenzie was the cause of the breakdown of trust…’

    Very nice, dear. But it wasn’t UTV who were writing the things. You’re telling us trust has broken down as a result of a bit of eyelash batting between you and Lawro? Too funny.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘So which partners specifically doesn’t Antoinette McKeown, and the Consumer Council, trust anymore?’

    It has precisely NOTHING to do with the NICC as a body, and is ALL to do with Antoinette McKeown, in my opinion.

    The first question I would ask is who is now looking after the consumers’ interests as far as the delivery of a public utility is concerned? (Not that I’m getting any great sense of them being looked after before if she’s sensing his ‘great leadership’ as evident from the emails).

    The fact is that it is Antoinette McKeown’s personal embarrassment that has invited this latest move, rather than any tangible sense of trust having broken down. At least that section of the press release is right: ‘this isn’t about the Consumer Council’. Damned right.

    In fact, now that the noddy neddies are in place, there is an exceptionally strong case for the NICC being all over NIW like a rash, rather than slinking away like a blushing schoolgirl.

    In response to the question…

    ‘So which partners specifically doesn’t Antoinette McKeown, and the Consumer Council, trust anymore?’

    …I read that as there being, er, three people in the marriage, and she’s referencing a lack of trust between the NICC (i.e herself) and the DRD/NIW, the inference being that DRD and NIW are very much in love with one another.

  • “She now says she has “some deep-rooted concerns”.

    “We raised those directly with the Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Water and the Interim chair this morning and they relate to management and governance issues,” she told UTV.

    I’ve just had a look at the most recent online minutes for NIW’s Executive Committee meeting dated August 23*. Only two members of the Executive turned up plus a minute taker. They decided the meeting was quorate 🙂 Three were on leave and Laurence MacKenzie, the EC chair, sent his apologies.

    [*Surely they’re not dropping behind so soon after belatedly publishing the missing minutes from November 16, 2009 onwards]

  • NI Water

    Mr G Savage asked the Minister for Regional Development (i) if he can confirm whether information was deliberately withheld from the Consumer Council in relation to the awarding of contracts within NI Water; (ii) whether this constitutes a breach of the partnership agreement between his Department, the Consumer Council and NI Water; and (iii) who within his Department was responsible for deciding to deliberately withhold this information.

    (AQW 18/11)

    Minister for Regional Development: I am not aware of information which the Consumer Council is entitled to receive in relation to the awarding of contracts within Northern Ireland Water (NIW), being deliberately withheld from it. I am therefore not aware of such information being deliberately withheld contrary to the spirit of the voluntary Partnership Agreement between the various stakeholders. The powers of the Consumer Council on the provision of information in relation to water and sewerage services are set out in the Water and Sewerage Services (NI) order 2006.

    I have asked my officials to deal with any specific concerns that the Consumer Council may wish to raise with the Department in this context.

    Mick, the answers to McGlone are there too.

  • Cynic

    Strange governance system if that meeting was quorate with so many people absent

  • William Markfelt

    UTV Programme ‘Stormy Water’

    ‘Mr G Savage asked the Minister for Regional Development why he has not viewed the UTV programme ‘Stormy Water’ which feature revelations about his Department’s conduct.

    (AQW 60/11)

    Minister for Regional Development: I have reviewed all media material, both print and broadcast, including the UTV programme, which relates to the issue.’

    Why so evasive by using the word ‘reviewed’? Has he watched or hasn’t he?

  • Mr G Savage asked the Minister for Regional Development to detail any concerns or conflicts of interest that have arisen between the suspended Permanent Secretary and the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland to date.

    (AQW 58/11)

    Minister for Regional Development: The interests of Board Members of the Department for Regional Development are set out in the Departmental Register of Interests which is publicly available. The latest version of the Register, updated in January 2010, does not indicate any conflict of interest between the parties to which the question relates.

    If the member has any evidence to the contrary I would be grateful if he bring it to my attention in writing.

    What is George Savage getting at here? Paul Priestly lists this: Paul Priestly Permanent Secretary (Chair) Non-Executive Director of the Chief Executives Forum (CEF), a body that partners with Common Purpose. His interim successor, Malcolm McKibbin, makes no mention of his CEF membership in the August 2010 register.

    Antoinette McKeown is also a CEF member – as is Laurence MacKenzie.

    Might a common membership of such high-powered fraternal-type organisations inhibit those who exercise a scrutiny role in the public interest?

  • Pete Baker

    Nevin

    The Consumer Council’s withdrawal from the Partnership Agreement is the topic here.

    Let’s address that before we go scurrying off in another direction.

  • Mick Fealty

    I think the answers to McGlone’s more interesting AQ (ie the use of single tender actions in those bodies) will take a while longer. Remember how long it took for the deep dive report to be commissioned and come up with an accurate answer.

    Given the Minster is still backing the IRT report’s strict findings on the use of STAs in NI Water, he has set the bar stupidly high.

    If he sticks to backing Priestley’s deal with McKenzie as a beezer device for the sacking of NIW board members, it is likely to unleash pandemonium within both Translink and the Roads Service that will knock NI Water’s tribulations into the shade.

    Thankfully the Harbour Commissioners plays a less central role in the everyday life of NI… But Mr Dixon will hardly be thanked for his efforts by his fellow commissioners…

  • Marriage is a delicate metaphor, William. Many Facebook members now list their relationship status as complicated rather than single or married.

    By the way, there are other stakeholders in the NIW ‘harem’ eg the Regulator.

  • Mick Fealty

    First up, what does this ‘withdrawal’ mean in practical terms?

    They are still talking to the Minister; but what about? Have they asked him how his other arms-length bodies run their tendering process?

    What does the interim board plan to do about this breakdown now their approach to the NICC appears to have failed?

    What does Mr MacKenzie plan to do now he seems to be genuinely in trouble with NICC and landed his new board in the mess right along side him?

  • Cynic

    They are all members of the Civil Service too. Nuff said!

  • Dr Concitor

    Look at AQW 7065/10 11th June 2010 what does that say about the comparative performance of the bodies you mention

  • Pete, I thought you would have seen the link between ‘cozy emails’ and my post.

    It’s my contention that some of the relationships have been too close for good governance and I support Antoinette’s suggestion: “There is a need to sit down to re-define the roles and relationships between all water stakeholders”. However, IMO she now needs to consider her own position in light of the Consumer Council’s part in the NIW fiasco.

  • Pete Baker

    No, Nevin.

    Your comment is simply pointing somewhere else when there is a substantial issue already on the table.

    Consider, for a minute, the implications of the Consumer Council’s decision to withdraw from the stakeholder arrangements now given the actions the Regional Development Minister has already taken to, supposedly, redress the issues within NI Water.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘Consider, for a minute, the implications of the Consumer Council’s decision to withdraw from the stakeholder arrangements now ‘

    It does seem exceptionally odd and, as I’ve said above, now should surely be the time for the NICC to be all over NIW, asking questions and querying on behalf of consumers who, dare I suggest, are a little bit less well represented as a result of today’s announcement.

    The decision does seem to be rather poorly executed and calls into question the level to which we can trust the NICC to look after our, the users, interests in dealing with NIW.

  • Mick Fealty

    If only Slugger could take tables… I will try and put that info somewhere more get-at-able… That’s going to take some explaining if/when the STA figures come out…

  • Pete, I’d like to see the respective statements from CCNI, NIW and the Minister before zooming in too closely. They move a little too slowly!!

  • Pete Baker

    “I’d like to see the respective statements from CCNI, NIW and the Minister before zooming in too closely.”

    At least that’s an improvement on zooming off elsewhere…

    But this is a statement by CCNI. The CEO is their official mouthpiece.

    You need to start identifying what’s significant and what’s not.

    And this is significant. For the reasons I’ve already articulated, whatever NI Water and the Minister come up with.

  • Mick Fealty

    Ah, worked out the bleedin obvious, Google Docs: http://url.ie/7k25

  • Jj

    On a score of 1 to 5, how would YOU score Gary Fair and Lian Patterson on a competence of “effective stakeholder management”?

  • William Markfelt

    ‘this is a statement by CCNI. The CEO is their official mouthpiece.

    You need to start identifying what’s significant and what’s not.’

    We need to identify, in that case, if this is another ‘solo run’ by the CEO, as opposed to a collective NICC statement.

    Or, at least, a solo run by the CEO merely rubber stamped by the rest of the NICC.

    The politics are all well and good, but I would suggest that there’s as much raw human emotion involved here as there is business and business relationships.

    We should not overlook the possibility that what we’re seeing in this, that may be regarded as significant, is a bit of ‘hell hath no fury’.

    My reading of it is that it’s a pissed off Antoinette McKeown gouging McKenzie’s eyes out. A job-saving exercise, a pretence of serving the consumers’ needs, and human emotion in equal parts.

  • Pete Baker

    Adds According to the BBC report

    [Antoinette McKeown] “The view of the Consumer Council is that when information that is shared between the Consumer Council and NI Water is leaked in such a way that it misrepresents our position on Northern Ireland Water that is not fair and not acceptable to consumers.

    “Also, if information is withheld by the Department for Regional Development from the Consumer Council in relation to the appointment of non-executive directors, that is also unfair to consumers,” she said.

  • William Markfelt

    That BBC report differs quite a bit from the UTV one, the latter inferring that the ‘breakdown of trust’ can be laid fairly and squarely at NIW’s compliance with an FOI request, i.e the leaked cosy emails, which entered the public domain ‘without consultation’, according to Ms McKeown.

    If the emails are the source, then what was ‘leaked’? Nothing. It was compliance with FOI. And THAT would put Conor Murphy’s response to the Assembly, that there was nothing that was withheld from NICC, but if the member knows otherwise, send it to me in writing’, etc, in some real perspective.

    Because Mr. Murphy would be correct. Nothing has been ‘leaked’, So where is Antoinette McKeown coming from as far as ‘leaks’ are concerned?

    Furthermore, what’s the petulant foot-stomping regarding ‘no consultation’. Is there an inference that, had she got wind of the FOI request, she would have done something in tandem with NIW to prevent its emergence? If this is the case, that’s worrying, because it would demonstrate a CEO willing to contravene FOI responsibilities to save personal embarrassment.

    If her judgement may have been regarded as clouded in emailing ‘great leaders’ like Lawrence McKenzie, then surely any indication that she would have tried to prevent, or alter, or redact embarrassing emails would demonstrate that her judgement isn’t just flawed, but is missing in action altogether, and is no longer fit to lead a body charged with protecting consumers’ interests.

  • Jj

    WM, I think your interpretation is too strong. It would have been courteous and professional for NIW to have shared the fact of and the response to FoI request with CCNI (if it involved correspondence with them)

    It would have been in the spirit (and the letter) of the Partnership Agreement that DRD as Shareholder (Gary Fair) kept CCNI informed of the non-executive appointment process, as representatives of the customer (i.e., us).

    He did not and thats a matter of record. All the harder to comprehend this insensitivity to CCNI (and by proxy, customers) as the Partnership Agreement was intended to keep reins on the former CEO of CCNI who pissed off DRD at every opportunity. Now they have another well founded excuse to be pissed off!

  • This McKeown detail is in addition to what appears in the <a href="http://www.consumercouncil.org.uk/newsroom/628/&quot;.CCNI press release.

    McKeown [BBC]: “She said all meetings must now be held on a more formal basis.”

    Well, fancy that; it ties in directly with my earlier references to the CEF and, possibly, to poor or zero minute taking [cf NIW claims to have no minute of the Murphy, Priestly and MacKenzie ‘lunch and beverages’ meeting on September 2, 2009.

    McKeown [BBC]: “Also, if information is withheld by the Department for Regional Development from the Consumer Council in relation to the appointment of non-executive directors, that is also unfair to consumers”

    Perhaps she should have provided more detail about what was withheld. [CPANI is in the same boat with regard to withheld information]

  • Pete Baker

    And Worth noting the official statement by the Consumer Council yesterday

    The Consumer Council has announced that it is withdrawing from the Water Stakeholders Partnership Agreement1 (Partnership Agreement) due to a breakdown in trust.

    Consumer Council Chairperson, Rick Hill and Chief Executive, Antoinette McKeown informed NI Water’s (NIW’s) Interim Chair Padraic White and Chief Executive Laurence Mackenzie and Department for Regional Development (DRD) Minister Conor Murphy MP, MLA of the decision at separate meetings earlier today.

  • William Markfelt

    My interpretation, JJ, comes from the UTV report, which focusses on the release of emails between Ms McKeown and Mr McKenzie as the instigation of the withdrawal.

    Analysis of the BBC’s version in isolation, focussed more on the appointment process, would reach a very different conclusion, i.e the Gary Fair input (or lack of), which is where you’re coming from, I think.

    Courteous and professional, maybe, to share the FOI request regarding emails, but what would it have done to alter the facts as they emerged? And we already know that NIW (‘Wee Dangermouse’) don’t seem to do courteous and professional, so not many shocks in them dealing with the FOI request as they did, in isolation.

    Besides, who can tell whether or not the FOI request reached McKenzie’s antennae, or whether or not shell-shocked NIW employees were happy to release them (quite legitimately) in a bid to further embarrass the dear leader.

    http://politicsni.wordpress.com/2010/08/20/why-did-drd-mislead-the-consumer-council-over-niwater-appointments/

    This FOI request seems to enter the public domain on the same day as Sam McBride pushes those cosy emails into the public domain (August 20th), so it doesn’t really help to clarify whether or not Ms McKeown had professional anger heaped on personal embarrassment, as it rather looks as though the whole lot dropped on her plate on the same day.

    I’m leaning towards the UTV version because they’ve done some footwork on the entire issue, whereas the BBC has trailed in behind, consistently. As UTV led, I’ve gone with an analysis of their reporting, and that all leads back to the cosy emails being the instigator of this latest development. The Gary Fair angle simply puts some ‘professional’ sheen on NICC’s apparent anger.

  • Jj

    Well, I see where you’re coming from in the UTV angle and that chronologically the pissed-off-ness embraces NIW and then DRD.

    She is right, surely that “consumers (are) not having a full and accurate picture”. However, any clarity that has emerged owes massively more to Jamie Delargy and Mick than to Antoinette.

  • Oracle

    Antoinette McKeown had absolutely no problem in accepting McKenzies view of NI Water and its board in the cosy emails…
    She was like a judge only listening to the case for the prosecution before coming to a verdict without a jury.

    “…good luck with a hard task in the knowledge that you’ve handled things correctly so far and no reason that shouldn’t continue”.

    “Relieved to read this week that your resignation offer was declined – not sure why you offered it as NIW badly needs your kind of leadership.

    “Pl (sic) give me a call when review complete so that we can prepare for any media interest. Take care. A.”

    There was no breakdown of trust if there was it was between the NICC and the public, because it is quite clear that Antoinette McKeown only trusted McKenzie and his view of the world

  • William Markfelt

    Oh, of course she’s right. But a ‘withdrawal from partnership’ does little to create that ‘full and accurate picture’ at the moment.

    That said, a withdrawal from a matey relationship, and to put things back onto a more formal and professional basis is to be welcomed.

    Perhaps we’re now looking at the winding up of the Chief Executives Forum as another fall-out from the NIW saga, as it, too, may ‘give rise to the perception’ that it’s an excuse to waste time and money in a matey manner. Perhaps, in future, communication between Chief Executives will need to be undertaken solely on a professional basis.

    I would like to establish the exact cause of the ‘withdrawal’. I suspect that the emails play a major part in that, although for now the Gary Fair angle will give it a professional gloss. That begs the question as to where UTV got the ’emails as instigator’ element to the story, and whether they can stand over the inclusion of that tit bit.

  • Oracle

    Just stop trying to save face Antoinette McKeown and just do the correct thing and RESIGN..

    The public have no faith in you or your flawed judgement

  • William Markfelt

    ‘Antoinette McKeown had absolutely no problem in accepting McKenzies view of NI Water and its board in the cosy emails…’

    Very good point. Would she have briefed NICC collectively on the views being forwarded by McKenzie on ‘the board hating me’?

    I would have imagined that boardroom conflict in a NI utility should have been something that concerned NICC much earlier than it apparently did.

    I suspect that much that is revealed in the emails only became known to the NICC when Sam McBride published them in the News Letter.

  • fin

    Of course its worth noting that Ms McKeown comes from a public sector background, the most interesting bit of the statement is

    “The Consumer Council will continue to work with the Department (Regional Development) in a constructive way so that consumers continue to have a voice at the heart of the process. Ms McKeown said: “There is a need for clarity and certainty. NIW’s shortcomings and failings are well documented. The Consumer Council wants to ensure that any action the Minister takes is in the interest of consumers and protects the vast investment in water that has been made in recent years.”…..”

    of course giving consumers a voice and protecting investment in NIW is best served thro re-nationalisation.

    Is it fair to say that the breakdown is with NIW as a GoCo?

    Should the NICC say that it feels renationalisation of NIW is best for consumers which politicans will disagree (other than the SDLP)

  • Antoinette McKeown referred to plummeting consumer confidence on August 19 and CCNI Chair, Rick Hill referred to a ‘breach of trust’ on September 1 in a CCNI press statement.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘NIW’s shortcomings and failings are well documented.’

    Are they?

    What are they?

    Does such a statement not demonstrate that the CEO of the NICC simply doesn’t comprehend the facts relating to NIW?

    Their ‘shortcomings’, so far, remains the twitching antennae regarding STAs which, as Mr. McGlone appears to be leaning towards, may be exactly in line with those in NIE or Translink or the Harbour Commissioners, and of a value that is much, much lower than the figure floated in the press and by politicians.

    Their ‘shortcomings’, so far, as a company, are actually debatable.

    If Ms McKeown can’t grasp this simple series of facts, should she be leading a consumers’ quango?

  • fin

    “…..NIE or Translink or the Harbour Commissioners,…..”

    NIE is soon to owned by the Irish government once the takeover by the ESB is completed

    Something that Ms McKeown was quite happy with, shame the DUP and UUP aren’t so happy.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘Something that Ms McKeown was quite happy with’

    If that’s her position, then it’s unlikely she could make a case for the renationalisation of water, surely?

  • Oracle

    Has the NICC been called by PAC yet???

    Perhaps than senario is the reason for these baffling press releases

  • fin, was her happiness expressed before or after this September 15, 2010 announcement?

    “ESB has entered into a new credit facilities agreement with a syndicate of 15 international and Irish banks.”

    Electricity consumers here (and in Ireland) might like to read the small print of that agreement.

  • William, CCNI was so ‘appalled’ by the NIW breach on execution day, March 12, 2010, that its next press release was on August 19. Will its ‘withdrawal’ be missed?

  • McCavity

    What matters now is now it has become patently obvious that Antoinette has not been doing her job because she was in the thrall of Mackenzie, Priestly and who knows how many others – how is that going to be corrected by CCNI?

    Is the CCNI Chairman/Board going to accept a new party is needed for CEO – someone hopefully more like the previous occupant than the current one. (At least her predessor called for and got a judicial review of the GoCo legislation and put DRD in the dock)

    Or is little Antoinette going to grow up and catch up (fast) with what has been missed by CCNI.

    If she needs some help then I suggest a daily read of Slugger will identify issues where CCNI should have been in the vanguard not the arse end of the proceedings.

    If you need the relevant information and documents on where and how millions are being wasted and hushed up – forget the red herrings – just post a request on Slugger and it will arrive for you to do something about.

    Having made a fool of yourself you really only have two options resign or get the job done right!

  • William Markfelt

    Just read that, Nevin, and there’s a lot of bluster about failures at NIW.

    To be reasonable, that statement comes at a time when I guess few of us were aware of the goings-on at NIW, so referencing shortcomings and failures at that point is fair enough.

    However, six months on, as the story has rumbled on, to persist with the ‘shortcomings and failings’ line beggars belief, since there remains no actual proof of either shortcomings or failings in respect of the original iissue -STAs.

    Plenty of shortcomings and failures in DRD, the IRT, the new Neddie process, the NICC itself, lots within NIW’s management structure, NIAO and PAC.

    But still no definitive proof of 70 odd contracts worth £25m being ‘a bad thing’ in itself. It remains the case that we’ve only McKenzie’s word (ha!) that it was ‘a bad thing’.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘If you need the relevant information and documents on where and how millions are being wasted and hushed up – forget the red herrings – just post a request on Slugger and it will arrive for you to do something about.’

    A good point, well made.

    http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/record/committees2009/RegionalDevelopment/091014WaterandSewerageAmendmentBill.htm

    I was looking at this link earlier (Ms McKeown giving evidence to the Regional Development committee) and she repeatedly takes a line where ‘NICC don’t have that info’, ‘NICC aren’t party to that’.

    It seems that, about a year ago, Ms. McKeown was fairly relaxed about the info not being provided her, or that her quango didn’t go in pursuit of.

    There’s one very telling section where she can’t make any assessment because she doesn’t know departmental budgets to make any informed judgement about water charges.

    A polite request, or an FOI request, might have revealed the figures from which to make some assessment, and if denied the info, she could have pointed to obfuscation from the departments in order for her to fulfill her role with more vigour.

    All of which makes the current dummy-spitting exercise look a little transparent.

  • william, can we assume that the Minister did not brief CCNI and some other NIW stakeholders in mid-January about his concerns and the reasons he called for further inquiries? Were they largely kept in the dark?

  • She refers to ‘listening mode’. Perhaps there was no or a relatively ineffectual questioning mode.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘can we assume that the Minister did not brief CCNI and some other NIW stakeholders in mid-January about his concerns and the reasons he called for further inquiries? Were they largely kept in the dark?’

    Probably Nevin, to both questions.

    But it’s a live, fast-moving and developing issue, and I don’t think the NICC would have been top of my or the Minister’s list of people to call regarding the original NED issue.

    I assume that would make for an interesting debate on how valuable the NICC are to the consumer, or how importantly the politicians and business ‘leaders’ take them.

    Do we actually need NICC? It occurs to me that there are some of you on Sluggers better serving the needs of the consumers with more rigour and thoroughness than that shown at any time by the NICC.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘Perhaps there was no or a relatively ineffectual questioning mode.’

    Yesterday she claimed there was a need to redefine roles in the partnership with NIW.

    I would suggest there is a much more urgent need to redefine the role of the NICC itself. Put up or pack up, would be my message.

  • Oracle

    I think her inability to act solely on behalf of the public has been well advertised by the contents of her own emails……

    “Pl (sic) give me a call when review complete so that we can prepare for any media interest. Take care. A.”

    That planned protection from media interest for a flawed review would have been detrimental to consumers..

    This woman has been Hoist by her own petard, she simply must go… nothing else will do

  • William Markfelt

    Something has just occurred to me. Sort of, but not quite, linked to Antoinette McKeown.

    Much of the NIW saga has revolved around ‘witch hunts’ (as Mr. Dallat put it). And the role of the Information Commissioner’s Office has also come in for some scrutiny.

    I seem to recollect that Aubrey McCrory served under Antoinette McKeown at the Equality Commission, prior to being subjected to a witch hunt himself, while acting as Information Commissioner.

    And, once again, there were ‘leaks’ involved.

    NI does indeed appear to be a very small place.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘That planned protection from media interest for a flawed review would have been detrimental to consumers..’

    Could, Oracle?

    It was detrimental to consumers. It’s simply more evidence of public figures’ professionalism being seriously compromised.

    If they’re stitching together press releases in such a manner the question must be whether or not there are other incidences of the ‘independent’ NICC (just like the ‘independent NIAO, in fact) climbing into bed with NIW.

    And if with NIW, then why not with all of the other bodies associated with NICC’s work?

  • Oracle

    your right William could

  • I tried to read the Water Stakeholders Partnership Agreement on the decidedly dodgy DRD website but it doesn’t work on the Firefox or Google browsers. I’ve downloaded the agreement and uploaded a copy to Scribd for your delectation.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘We collaborate’

    No! Say it isn’t true!

    I simply can’t believe that ‘we should meet to fend off media interest’ can be passed off as policy.

    Collusion. It’s not an illusion.

  • ” Issues that cannot be resolved between individuals or stakeholders will be escalated to the Water Stakeholder Steering Group for resolution.”

    Did the Consumer Council take its issues to WSSG – or did it just spit the dummy out of the pram?

    “We value robust, straightforward relationships that combine assertiveness with co-operation.”

    I think Laurence MacKenzie might need some re-education; he seems to have stopped at robust 🙂

  • This document has made my day, William 🙂

  • Pete Baker

    Focus, guys.

    It’s all very well speculating on motives for past actions.

    But what are the implications now for the supposedly cleansed NI Water, and the Department for Regional Development, and the Minister, following the declaration of current mis-trust by the Consumer Council?

  • William Markfelt

    ‘what are the implications now for the supposedly cleansed NI Water, and the Department for Regional Development, and the Minister, following the declaration of current mis-trust by the Consumer Council?’

    None. Well, practically none.

    The only implication is that people, the government, the DRD, NIW and the Minister realise (probably already have done) that NICC are a complete waste of time, space and money.

    I suspect that keeping them out of the loop is simply a signifier in how much esteem NICC are held.

    I suspect that much of the public (see above for a vox pop) hold the NIVV in the same high regard.

  • it’s much too early to say, Pete. CPANI has yet to react in detail to the interim NED selection process; NIAO has to produce its report under some eagle eyes in the PAC; and PAC and CRD have some collaborative work to do.

    BTW, CCNI apparently has had three opportunities already to express an opinion on the operation of the Partnership Agreement during the course of the six-monthly review; if held, the last of these reviews would have been in April past.

  • Pete Baker

    “it’s much too early to say”

    Rubbish, Nevin.

    It’s not dependant on those other bodies.

    The Regional Development Minister has, supposedly, acted ‘decisively’ to deal with the issues within NI Water.

    The Consumer Council has just declared that they now no longer trust their partners in the Stakeholders Agreement – NI Water and the Department for Regional Development.

    Focus on the facts you have before you.

  • I took a different angle on Pete’s question, William. I think the main reason for the creation of bodies such as CCNI is to delude the public into thinking that their interests are being protected.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘The Consumer Council has just declared that they *now* no longer trust their partners in the Stakeholders Agreement – NI Water and the Department for Regional Development.

    Focus on the facts you have before you.’

    They’re still talking to the Minister, Pete, and presumably that extends to DRD too, so the only breakdown appears to be between NICC and NIW.

    I’m not sure there’s much more can be said about email exchanges, as a possible instigator of that breakdown (according to UTV) without Mick having us all hoisted off this site forever.

    I side with Nevin on this one. Until there’s further revelations, it IS too early to say much more.

  • See my reply to William, Pete. Goodnight all!!

  • Pete Baker

    William

    I don’t care who they are still talking to.

    The point is to highlight what their actions mean now.

    Yes, Nevin

    The creation of bodies such as CCNI is an attempt “to delude the public”.

    Fantastic.

    In the meantime, the rest of us will continue to interrogate the evidence…

    And, right now, that includes the implications for the Minister’s declared position on NI Water.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘The point is to highlight what their actions mean now.’

    Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

    The only implications are that a) the public (or the paymasters of this ‘independent’ quango) come to the same conclusion and request it be dismantled.

    and b) if it transpires that an already wounded CEO has taken this move as a personal revenge on McKenzie, rather than it be some sort of collective decision for the benefit of consumers.

    Other than that, I don’t see any legs in this announcement. No one cares, frankly. Which must be a chastening realisation for Ms. McKeown.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘right now, that includes the implications for the Minister’s declared position on NI Water.’

    Does it? How?

  • William Markfelt

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/37888268/Northern-Ireland-Water-Stakeholders-Partnership-Agreement

    The ‘partnership agreement’ Nevin posted above references those involved ‘treating one another as equals’.

    Never mind the ‘breakdown in trust’ Antoinette McKeown talks about. We’ve already had McKenzie’s ‘wee Dangermouse’ remarks which demonstrate that trust between NIW and the regulator are either damaged or never existed.

    What have we got? A glossy brochure heavy on the BS. I wonder how much it all cost to produce? And did the printing of it go to (multiple) tender?

  • William, I can find no online press releases yet from the Minister or the other stakeholders to the CCNI ‘walkout’.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘William, I can find no online press releases yet from the Minister or the other stakeholders to the CCNI ‘walkout’.’

    The only reference I can find is via the UTV report (link in the topic opener)

    ‘interests of the consumer would be best served by NICC’s presence’, is essentially the tone of the minister’s statement.

    Which is quite correct. Consumers do not benefit from dummy-spitting exercises.

    But, tellingly, it appears to be business as usual from the other ‘partners’, which puts the NICC’s value into some sort of context.

  • William, in the absence of other press releases, the CCNI version of events is being promoted without challenge.

  • William Markfelt

    http://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/Watchdog-walks-away-from-water.6541457.jp

    ‘Last night Mr Murphy said he “respected” the Consumer Council decision and NI Water said that it was “aware of the current situation”.

    These are the only other DRD/NIW comments I can find.

    Neither demonstrate much desperation to have the NICC back in the fold as a matter of urgency.

  • William Markfelt

    As the NIW saga gets murkier, it’s interesting to see how a close-knit ‘band of brothers’ have unravelled, big time, before our eyes, with increasing evidence of each of the players keen to distance themselves from their former friends for the purpose of saving face, or maybe their reputations or jobs.

    The NICC’s decision this week to withdraw from partnership is an irrelevant sideshow by an irrelevant body whose hypocrisy runs as deep as that displayed by the DRD, NIW, McKenzie, Dixon, Priestly, Murphy, Fair, Patterson, PAC and others.

    The NICC’s website claims they ‘undertake research’, one facet of their work that seemed curiously absent when Ms. McKeown addressed the Regional Development committee on the introduction of water charges, claiming that, in the main, customers accepted they were coming. I’ve yet to meet anyone who accepts they’re coming. Indeed, Ms. McKeown appeared to flounder greatly when questioned on the detail, and as some Slugger correspondents have suggested (above), she needs to take a leaf out of the Slugger book and learn how to use FOIs.

    ‘Just ask us’, McCavity infers, and he’s probably right. The likes of Slugger is providing a greater service to ‘consumer rights’ than the non-independent NICC is managing.

    What Antoinette McKeown’s statement earlier in the week has done is basically to shoot the NICC in its own foot. No one basically cares, and in fact her role as CEO is now being openly questioned (above). What the statement has done is to highlight the irrelevancy of the NICC, a body not above riding the gravy train itself in the past, thus undermining its own rectitude when moralising about the ‘failures’ of NIW, which still have not been positively identified.

    When Eleanor Gill, its previous CEO, left the NICC they held a party. Nothing to do with the yet-to-be-appointed Antoinette McKeown, but certainly on current Chairman Rick Hill’s watch.

    The cost for that party was £1360 of public money. £440 on music, £150 on invitations, and £375 on waiter service. That’s our -the consumer’s- money, incidentally.

    Around the same time, the NICC also paid £1730 to place an ‘article’ (for which read, vanity advertising) in Agenda NI magazine which appears to have been little more than a lengthy advertisement for Ms Gill’s new consultancy business, with little bits of NICC work tacked on to give it a patina of respectability.

    As the DUP’s Simon Hamilton said in the Assembly at the time, ‘it’s a bit rich to spend this and then criticise Translink for 10p rises’. Absolutely correct, sir.

    The NICC would appear to have its own history of profligacy with public money, then, which very much undermines any arguments they make, to any of the bodies they approach on behalf of us, the consumers, regarding profligacy in other government agencies.

    If there’s a lesson to be learned from this week’s dummy-spitting exercise from Antoinette McKeown, it’s that her organisation does not fulfil any useful role to the consumer, as evidenced by DRD and NIW’s ‘yeah, so what?’ styled statements, and a vox-pop (above) that shows a lack of trust or respect in her organisation from members of the general public whose interests she is charged with protecting.

    Severe budget cuts are, apparently, on the horizon. I suggest we begin with the closing down of the NICC and a new body (and new faces) put in its place. People who understand the need to properly represent the consumers need, and who aren’t quite so cavalier in how they waste our cash on magazine articles and parties.

  • Oracle

    Excellent post William

    Nah…… its Fucking excellent

    NICC has lost all credibility on this issue, and you’re right a change of personel badly required

  • fin

    Don’t you think its a bit deceptive to use ’10p’ when discussing a fare rise, surely its 10p on every ticket bought by every passager, what does it actually amount too

    Care to put a price on the cost of closing down the NICC and the cost of a new body?

    With regards to the NICC using FoI requests in protecting consumers, what have all of the recent F0Is uncovered so far?

  • Pete, I think the implications of the CCNI ‘walkout’ for the Minister, DRD and NIW will depend mainly on the subsequent actions of CRD and PAC as well as those of the MSM.

    If CCNI hasn’t sought to resolve its issues with the ‘big beasts’ through the Water Stakeholder Review Group then it can be shown to have acted irresponsibly.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘Don’t you think its a bit deceptive to use ’10p’ when discussing a fare rise, surely its 10p on every ticket bought by every passager, what does it actually amount too’

    That misses the point entirely. It would be 10p as a percentage of the existing fare, and probably compared against inflation.

    What have FOI requests uncovered? A fair percentage of the NIW story as reported on these pages for four months now.

    I don’t actually think we need an NICC at all, so the cost of a new one would be nil.

  • William Markfelt

    Oh, and the current CEO should be resigning, so no redundancy package required. If it must continue, promote from within and reshuffle the pack. NIW call it ‘restructuring’.

  • William Markfelt

    Word reaches me that the NIW good PR juggernaut which has already led them to be placed in such high esteem in the minds of all of its customers, is now attempting to withhold bonus payments to *some* sections of its staff.

    Does anyone else have any information on this? I also hear that the unions are involved in negotiating the bonuses being illegally/unfairly denied the staff.

  • William Markfelt

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/time-to-shakeup-northern-ireland-public-sector-say-business-chiefs-14955524.html

    We can pick up tonight’s Belfast Tele lead story about it being time to shake up the public sector.

    “We have too many structures, with too many layers, employing too many people, often rewarded too highly, while delivering too little to the people who ultimately employ them – the citizens of Northern Ireland.’ says CBI Chairman Terence Brannigan.

    Who could he be speaking of? DRD? NIW? NIAO? NICC? It seems that the ‘value for money’ element of it has made his antennae twitch.

  • This from the NIW 2009/2010 Annual Report:

    “Remuneration for Executive Directors comprises base salary, a discretionary annual bonus plan and pension entitlements. No bonuses were paid to Executive Directors for 2009/10 performance.”

  • William Markfelt

    I’ve since heard that it’s the Engineering Procurement section that has been singled out for no bonuses, Nevin. That has floated in from two different people, so it would appear it has some grain of truth in it.

    It would appear that the matter of procurement has been something of a thorn in the side of NIW this past year.

  • William Markfelt

    Oh. I should add. NIW seem to want to defer payment to others for three months.

    What does this infer? Cash flow difficulties? 🙂

  • JimJelly

    “‘Don’t you think its a bit deceptive to use ’10p’ when discussing a fare rise, surely its 10p on every ticket bought by every passager, what does it actually amount too’

    That misses the point entirely. It would be 10p as a percentage of the existing fare, and probably compared against inflation.”

    Thats 10p on the top of the lowest value fares, its a lot more than a 10p increase on a £10 trains fare for example. That fare increase aimed to take in an extra £2.5m a year, around about the same cost as NICC actually…..

    Slightly off topic but in terms of value for money, should the CEO of Translink be taking home £240,000 a year of public money to run a couple of hundred buses and two train lines?

  • William, an update from CCNI. It wasn’t represented at the September 2, 2009 meeting involving Murphy, Priestly and MacKenzie where ‘efficiencies’ were on the agenda. Presumably this means that NIW can expect a significantly reduced financial subvention.

  • fin

    Willliam you’ve lost me totally, is it get rid of the NICC or not? are you aware of the basics of employment law? you can’t tell someone to resign, you can sack them but that comes with compo unless you can prove a reason for sacking them.

    I’ll simplify my question regarding FoI requests which ones have been relevant to the NICC, what FoIs should the NICC ask for?

    10p fare increase, call it what you like, its 10p whats the overall cost per annum?

  • William Markfelt

    ‘is it get rid of the NICC or not?’

    I’d say yes but, as you point out, employment law says otherwise.

    As for not being able to tell someone to resign, that’s exactly what Conor Murphy suggested that former NIW chief Katharine Bryan should do.

    The NICC could have made FOI requests for the figures (departmental budgets, etc) that Antoinette McKeown had no knowledge of when representing our, the consumers’, interests before the Regional Development Committee. About half of Slugger’s correspondents would appear to be familiar with the process. Clearly the consumers’ interests were being well served by NICC that day.

  • fin

    you can suggest anything you like to people making them do something is totally different,

    employment law doesn’t mean you can’t get rid of the NICC, personally I don’t think its a good idea, if you want to save cash I’d suggest cutting the number of NI MPs to say 4, there is no need for them with Stormont up and running.

    Still totally in the dark over what FoI you feel should have been made on behalf of consumers by NICC

  • William Markfelt

    Katharine Bryan went and did it following his suggestion.

    Redundancy payments would work out cheaper than the cost of the NICC.

    I’ve explained the sort of stuff the inept Antoinette McKeown could have asked for in order to present a fuller, more detailed presentation to the Reginal Development committee.

  • fin, William referred to her contribution to the CRD on 14 October 2009:

    “We do not intend to do research into the implications that the deferral of water charges would have on public services; the Consumer Council does not have access to that information.”

    “To answer the last question first: no; we do not have the access to the departmental budgets that would enable us to do that.”

  • gottasay

    “a new body (and new faces) put in place”

    Good idea!
    Headed by Declan Gormley.

    I,ve only come to Slugger recently after the N.I.W story broke in the media.I,ve resisted commentating as I thought so many people seem to understand the story much better than me.
    However I think this story cannot be as portrayed originally.Firstly let me declare up front I know one of the people involved I worked for Declan Gormley 15 years ago when he was Director of a retail plc.He hasn’t changed as far as I can see.He was always straightforward ,demanding,fa tough taskmaster ,fair, honest and devoid of pretence. He was a terriffic man manager.The people working for him would have gone through a brick wall for him,because if anyone from H.O (or anywhere else for that matter) tried to criticise his team he defended them to the hilt.Mostly they didn’t even try because his absolute main asset was his brainpower ,and getting into a debate with him was not a great idea.
    He is the wrong man to pick a row with and yet in the 5 years I worked for him I never heard him raise his voice once!
    I don’t know all or much of the detail of what has happened at N.I.W, but it is seriously at odds, with my recollection of him or how he acted.

    It also seems odd to me that he goes and the guy who joined on the same day stays.Does that imply that there is some direct evidence aginst one and not the other?
    If it exists I haven’t seen it recorded.Perhaps it has been covered before I joined, and if so I would appreciate if someone could tell me where as I would like to see what the charge is (if that is the right word) against him.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘I would appreciate if someone could tell me where as I would like to see what the charge is (if that is the right word) against him.’

    The ‘independent’ review team are still working on that one.

    They’ve had a couple of drafts at it already.

  • Pink Lady

    Fawlty Faucets or a Disaster Movie?

    The February and March 2010 emails between Antoinette McKeown (NICC CEO) and Laurence McKenzie (NIW CEO) released by NIW under the FOI request illustrated that the NICC was possibly naive in their initial understanding of what was going on.

    The NICC will probably regret that they did not their homework on the character of MacKenzie before they started to work together. If only they had talked to a selection of senior staff at NIE.

    But this regret is not alone. What would the sacked Chris Mellor or the suspended Paul Priestly say about MacKenzie now? What would the ‘gone to ground’ CEO of Phoenix Gas Peter Dickson say?

    So whilst they have some regrets around their actions, at this time, there is no evidence that the NICC were in any way corrupt or sought to mislead consumers. McKeown only ought to show private support kindly to someone who she, at that stage, thought was trying to do the right thing.

    NICC actions since then have been much more considered. They have clearly stood back and taken stock. After realising that they had been played like a violin by MacKenzie NICC has had the courage to come out and say that what they now thought they had witnessed was an internal power struggle with MacKenzie seeking to remove key staff and NEDS and install his own.

    NICC understand how some elements of the media have been carefully manipulated by leaks made by MacKenzie and DRD. And how some have been designed to wound them and others.

    The next NICC step was to say they had been cynically used and were not being given the information they requested – with information being provided by DRD on a strictly ‘we think this is all you need to know now to keep you quiet’ basis.

    The latest NICC action is to send a strong public signal to Minister Murphy and the interim Chairman of NIW that they no longer trust MacKenzie.

    NIW is like a ship being tossed around in a huge storm. Slugger, UTV, the News Letter, the Irish News, and many others have all helped to identify observers that MacKenzie created this storm. He has now locked himself in the wheelhouse, invisible to most of the dedicated crew, except those he is either still wrestling to have thrown overboard or who has just arrived the wheelhouse and who are probably still evaluating the numerous flashing warning lights. He has chained himself to the wheel. He is driving NIW toward the rocks because this storm has not gone his way. At least CCNI has pulled themselves up from the shifting and bloody decks and firmly sounded the ships horn to warn all – save the ship, her cargo is precious!

    But who will now wrestle the wheel from McKenzie before NIW founders?

    Reading some of the posts on Slugger it becomes aware that there are many out there who do not like CCNI. Should this be a surprise to anyone? In the consumer interest they ask difficult questions of those in powerful positions. They have achieved much for customers at the expense of profits and some individuals have not taken kindly to previous hits to their reputation, promotion prospects, or bonus. NICC asks questions that some politicians simply cannot for party reasons. They ask questions that staff cannot for fear of their job. NI needs a strong NICC.

    What can be sure is that NICC and Antoinette McKeown will have learned from this painful lesson taught to them by MacKenzie. They will be wiser. They now need support to do their job.

    But when will this disaster movie end?

  • “In an unprecedented move, the Consumer Council says it has now lost trust in the company and the Government Department led by Conor Murphy”

    Have Laurence and Antoinette kissed and made up?

    WaterNI conference, 3rd February 2011

    Confirmed speakers to date include:

    James Oatridge, Director, Utility Regulator (Chair)

    Alan Sutherland, Chief Executive, Water Industry Commission for Scotland
    Jo Aston, Director of Water Regulation, Utility Regulator
    George Butler, Director of Asset Management, Northern Ireland Water
    Antoinette McKeown, Chief Executive, Consumer Council
    Dave Foster, Director of Environmental Protection, Northern Ireland Environment Agency
    Charles Ainger, Visiting Professor of Engineering for Sustainable Development, Cambridge University

  • Drumlins Rock

    Nevin, I’m guessing Laurence and Antoinette never fell out at all, but the members of the actual consumer council, her employers, clipped her wings on that occasion and pushed through that statement. Of course they might now face the same fate as their NIW comrades.