NI Water: A serious management problem for Mr MacKenzie

Both the Irish News and the News Letter have stories on a damning staff survey at Northern Ireland Water, taken months after the Board was removed which demonstrates that a serious management problem has set in under the stewardship of Laurence MacKenzie.

For example, see this data on areas which identified as’ needing improvement’ (remember 60% is considered a poor score requiring ‘considerable focus’)

Some of the attitudes might be attributable to external factors. For instance some of the 22% per cent of the employees believe that Northern Ireland Water has a clear view of where the organisation is going may be attributable to political fudging over the future of NI Water. But it does not explain the over all negative picture, nor does it quite explain the extraordinarily high response rate of 61% (up from 44% last year). That’s better than most general elections in the UK.

It seems that a lot of people were highly motivated to tell management exactly what they thought of the current style. And the over figures speak pretty eloquently of a massive breach in confidence and trust.

This is reflected in many of the comments sent privately to Slugger over the last few months. Most were fearful that any public disclosure simply of their feelings about working there and in particular on their thoughts on Mr MacKenzie’s management style.

One exception bears repetition in the context of this survey and the shenanigans around the ousting of the old Board, and the beefing up of a few minor breaches in procurement process (which it now seems were operating a norm rather than the exception for DRD, from run quangos) was Rank And File of NIW’s personal assay of its harmful effects on staff moral:

I am embarassed to tell anyone that I work for NIW… yet I feel I have probably been engaged in some of the most strategic and valuable projects that I will ever be exposed to in my working life… and have delivered significantly with substantial results.

This is something I am (was) genuinely proud of… and has now been reduced to “junk status”. (As a comparison, my career pre-NIW spanned nearly 20 years in private sector international business, so would imagine that I have “earned my spurs”).

On a wider context, the staff surveys results are virtually not fit for human consumption… they are literally that bad, they have not been published…!!! And when you couple this with a looming pay freeze for 2 years which really equates to a 5% pay cut in real terms… overall morale is at an all time low.

So the NI Water fire continues to smoulder. On Monday we should have a story (which will not come as any surprise to some of our more vocal readers) on how one senior whistle blower was dealt with by the now suspended Permanent Secretary at DRD, Paul Priestly.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty