NI Water: Murphy contradicts his new Permanent Secretary?

Now this is an interesting response from the Minister. Not least since it seems to contradict what his new Permanent Secretary has already told us:

Mr Patsy McGlone (Mid Ulster): To ask the Minister for Regional Development, in relation to the Public Accounts Committee inquiry into NI Water, why his Department was reliant on Atkins Contractors to provide detail of the £5,222,144 paid by the Department to them between March 2002 and April 2007, in relation to DRD Water Service Contract work.

(AQW 83/11)

Minister for Regional Development: My Department was not reliant on Atkins Contractors to provide this detail. However, because of the amount of information that was requested by the PAC within tight timescales following the 1 July hearing, Atkins Contractors was approached directly.

That’s not what Minister Murphy’s Department told the PAC:

It has not been possible to retrieve the expenditure figure pre April 2007 from NI Water’s financial systems for this particular contract with Atkins. Therefore the figures pre April 2007 have been provided directly from Atkins.

So which is it Minister?

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  • Not necessarily a contradiction, Mick, perhaps more a question of time-scale ie Atkins could produce the information more quickly. Certainly a shifting of ground.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘Atkins could produce the information more quickly.’

    If true, that would be a sad indictment of DRD management and clear evidence of appalling inefficiencies within the department.

    Perhaps the entire Civil Service’s statutory duty to properly maintain records is deeper and wider than simply failing to manage emails and other documentation subjected to FOI requests.

  • Dr Concitor

    I would say CM’s answer is quite close to the truth. The answer to the PAC clearly states:”It has not been possible to retrieve the expenditure figure pre April 2007″ that in my book is a contradiction. Why did they say this? Sloppiness or arrogance possibly, or a bit of spinning against NIW? Good on you Patsy!

  • Mr Angry

    Worthy of note is the fact that NI Water only came into existence in April 07.

    It is not, therefore, unreasonable to assume that they may have operated a “clean sheet” approach in relation to expendiature prior to that date.

  • William Markfelt

    Partially.

    An organisation like NIW (previously NIWS) would have had ongoing contracts when the change occurred, so the new NIW would have needed to take responsibility for the contracts they inherited, and presumably had responsibility to detail those contracts.

  • Mr Angry

    Yes William but the draw down pre NIW was the responsibility of NIWS up to April 2007. The request is specific in that it requires details of spend between March ’03 and April ’07.

    That particular spend was the responsibility of NIWS and not NIW which is an entirely separate legal entity.

    I note that McGlone’s question is in relation to “Water Service Contract work” (general) yet the reply from Murphy’s Dept makes clear and specific mention of “this particular contract”.

    Semantics, I know, however the devil is in the detail.

  • William Markfelt

    What was the Central Services Agency has morphed into the Business Services Organisation. The latter still need to handle the former’s FOI and other ‘correspondence’. A name change (and change of figurehead) doesn’t alter their responsibilities. They still need to take on the former’s information ‘workload’.

  • Mr Angry

    Yes William, I appreciate that – however they are not “like for like”.

    NIW is, both legally and constitutionally, very different from both NIWS and the HSC BSO.

    The issue here – as things stand – is accessibility to information from a time sensitive perspective.

    Nobody is, as yet, saying that NIW don’t have access to the information or that what records they do have access to are not up to scrutiny.

    Time will, of course, tell.

  • Dr Concitor

    Mr Angry: It is totally unreasonable to assume that NIW started off with a clean sheet as you put it. This would be a particularly dumb thing to do, even for DRD

  • Mr Angry

    Dr, For clarifiction, when I said “clean sheet” I was referencing, specifically, “NI Water’s financial systems” as a stand alone entity as referenced in the reply from the Dept.

    It is quite conceivable that NI Water’s financial systems (whatever they may be) contained / had no historical records of NIWS spend beyond live and ongoing spend at the time of its inception.

  • Dr Concitor

    As you point out the financial systems would have undergone a seismic shift on the change to NIW, but I can’t see how there could be a clean sheet. How could existing contracts for goods and services or major projects be managed with a clean sheet approach?

  • fin

    I believe the legal requirement is to retain invoices etc for seven years, I would read this as NIW didn’t have time to recover the information from the archives.

    Its lucky for the HMRC that its not based in NI as it announces its 2nd round of being unable to deal with taxation despite a very expensive IT system and outsourcing contract, not to mention a boss who gets £5,000 a month just for travel expenses alone

  • William Markfelt

    ‘I would read this as NIW didn’t have time to recover the information from the archives.’

    In which case should they, or DRD, not have made it clear, in response to an FOI request, that the historic information would take longer than the 28 working days to unearth, that they had, in the meantime ‘x’ amount of information and would fulfill the request relating to the remainder at the earliest possible opportunity?

    To have done so would have been courteous (something lacking, apparently, in NIW’s dealings with NICC, we’ve learned this week).

    This is part of the FOI ‘problem’. In limiting the information and explanation to a bare minimum, bodies asked for info often end up subsequently looking like a right shower of dicks.

    To have made clear that the time constraints were causing difficulties, that the info was obtained from Atkins in the interim, and that DRD/NIW figures would follow in due course would surely have been a more satisfactory explanation for all.

    As things stand, the Minister, his department and NIW have ended up looking sillier than we already assumed them to be.

  • William, proper minute taking is another weak point 🙁