One of the things that’s important to note is just how little experience in running a water utility remains at board level in Northern Ireland Water. When Minister Murphy sacked the last Board he cashiered a group of people who had some sixty years experience between them of working in the water industry. The new board has virtually none.
Mr MacKenzie, who himself had no experience of water before his appointment, having rid himself of that experience then proceeded to issue disciplinary proceedings against two of the only remaining members of the Board who had sufficient senior experience to take a water company effciently through a crisis of this magnitude.
As none of Mr Murphy’s replacement board had any substantial management experience in the water industry, none have been in a position to ask the right questions nor to provide senior counsel to what amounts to a fledgling industry CEO through this crisis.
This inexperience may well have been the reason that neither Mr MacKenzie, nor his former NIE colleague Sarah Venning, acted on significant warning signs on 21st December, when ‘No water’ calls rose from 138 on the 20th to 503 that following day. Complaints about low pressure rose more modestly (but still quite dramatically) from 47 to 70.
Under similar circumstances – a big freeze followed by an equally large thaw – in the past, this would have spurred the company to early action. It will cause some disquiet both inside and outside an organisation that has become a convenient kicking post, ever since Mr MacKenzie first tendered his resignation on 18th January this year to learn of this failure at leadership level in NI Water.