Another conflict of interest in yet another NI Water review team…

You can never quite guess which way this Northern Ireland Water story is going next. So now there’s another question hanging over the appointment of a review team set up to look at the foul up over Christmas announced within hours of the conclusion of Mr MacKenzie’s negotiation over his departure deal on Friday.

Two days into his appointment as CEO, MacKenzie learned that he was to have two bosses. The duly Board of the GoCo of course, but he was also to report to the Permanent Secretary, Paul Priestly, both directly and through the department’s Shareholder Unit.

However Mr Priestly was suspended for authoring the text of a letter attacking the PAC and giving it to a member of his Independent Review Team (whose *final* report had been material to the sacking of the previous NI Board last March), Mr Peter Dixon, Managing Director of Phoenix Gas to sign, pass off as his own and send to the PAC’s chair Paul Maskey.

Now it has been confirmed that Peter Dixon’s friend and former director of Phoenix Gas, Phil Holder is one of the three named to review Northern Ireland Water’s absymal response to the cold weather crisis over Christmas. Indeed Mr Holder, who (unlike the current Board of NI Water) does have a strong background and understanding of in the water industry, currently works for Phoenix’s sister company (Note: we’ve been informed that the two companies parted company about five years ago), East Surrey Holdings.

In our book that is as a clear conflict of interest as you will find anywhere.

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  • Was Holder also Dixon’s boss from around 2003 to 2006 when Phoenix was owned by ESH?

  • Mick Fealty

    Records I have note that Holder is actually MD and Dixon CEO of ESH, so I make that to be Dixon is (or possibly was) Holder’s boss.

  • The independent solution is to set up a major incident enquiry by the Health and Safety Executive under Section 14(2)(a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. There don’t need to be actual immediate deaths or injuries, as:

    The event may either cause, or have the potential to cause, either:
    multiple serious injuries, cases of ill health (either immediate or delayed), or loss of life, or
    serious disruption or extensive damage to property, inside or outside the establishment

  • Thanks, Mick.

  • wild turkey


    as a trial balloon this probably has the all elegance of the hindenberg, but…

    why not contact the sociology dept at one of the universities to see if you can interest them in having one of their undergrads do a social networking diagram/analysis of all the players in the NIW saga?

    you are a busy man, but i suspect also well connected and definetly well respected so give it a shot.

    if there are no takers, so be it.

    have you stayed on top of all the aspects and nuances of NIW story is beyond me. in comparison, twin peaks must be light relief.

  • Actually, if you could get your hands on all the e-mails, it is possible to data mine them and produce a social network analysis of who communicates with whom inside NI Water. It has been done for Enron, and is the sort of thing IBM Research in Dublin do very well. I predict few connections between the engineers in the field and the senior managers.

  • Cynic2

    Just what is the competence of some of these people to carry out the Review.

    I don’t doubt their integrity but

    1 the Water Regulator was supposed to regulate NIW and must have a vested interest in how it came to be in such bad shape. He will also have to regulate it in the future so is it wise for him to do this and then adjudicate on issues in the futrure that may flow form his own review?

    2 just who is Heather Moorehead? From what I can gather is is a qualified Environmental Health Officer who then did an MBA degree at UU and moved into the Local Government Association as its Chief Executive. All very good but does that qualify one for an inquiry like this? Has she ever run any major organisation? Dealt with issues like this?

    So just what was the process used to pick the individuals for this role?

  • wild turkey

    “just who is Heather Moorehead….All very good but does that qualify one for an inquiry like this? ”


    ah, perhaps, perhaps, the name says it all. then again, maybe not.


  • milo

    “just who is Heather Moorehead….All very good but does that qualify one for an inquiry like this? ”

    i don’t know who she is but she’s a friend of conor murphy’s on facebook.

  • milo, Facebook friends wouldn’t count as a conflict of interest. Mind you, Conor could call upon another of his FB friends, that well known academic, Professor Billy McWilliams, to write the reports.

    For those googlers out there, it’s Moorhead, not Moorehead.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘So just what was the process used to pick the individuals for this role?’

    Nice bit of Dover Sole and a bottle of Rioja paid for by the taxpayer/shareholder would appear to be the rapidly emerging process of choice.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Would that be under a Single Tender Action?

    According to the Minister “Single-tender actions are not defensible”

  • Pigeon Toes

    Oh and just as a wee nod back to the Belfast Telegraph’s earlier stance on the whole NIW story.

    “The report will be viewed as an endorsement of Mr MacKenzie’s position. It states the best way forward involves the chief executive being tasked to deliver the required changes.”

    Read more:

    Compare and contrast with today:-

    “Nuala McKeever: Good riddance Laurence MacKenzie – and, no, you won’t be missed”i

  • Pigeon Toes

    19. Mr P McGlone (Mid Ulster):

    To ask the Minister for Regional Development, pursuant to AQW 3212/11, to detail about which two Assembly Questions the Permanent Secretary wrote to the Treasury Office of Accounts on 7 December 2010.
    (AQW 3212/11)

    Minister for Regional Development: On 5 July 2010, the then Permanent Secretary wrote to the Treasury Officer of Accounts in the Department of Finance and Personnel advising of a letter to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) from the Group Chief Executive of Phoenix Energy Holdings.

    On 15 October 2010 the Permanent Secretary of my Department wrote to the Treasury Officer of Accounts seeking advice on handling issues around some of the information that was requested by the PAC. Furthermore, the Permanent Secretary wrote to the Treasury Officer of Accounts on 7 December 2010 advising of two Assembly Questions received by my Department in relation to the PAC inquiry into NI Water.

  • WM, the Chief Executives Forum would appear to be regular meeting point for some who have been named in these discussions. If you look at this hospitality list you’ll see that Permanent Secretaries could have been dining with the Regulator, the Consumer Council CEO, the Auditor General, the NIW CEO and the NILGA CEO twice a month and that sometimes these meals will have been sponsored by accountancy firms whose names have cropped up in earlier discussions. I wonder if any such encounters took place during the course of investigations.

  • Pigeon Toes


    “6.2 WBR considered the potential impacts of the severe weather
    on Departmental operations, including anticipated issues that
    may arise from a thaw, such as burst pipes, potholes. This
    included the Department’s state of readiness over the
    Christmas period. Geoff provided a detailed update on the
    work being undertaken by Roads Service to keep major roads open. An approach had been made by the National Roads Authority (NRA) for grit supplies and Road Service had agreed to provide some limited supplies. Briefing had been prepared for the First Minister for an expected telephone discussion with the Prime Minister on the impact of the severe weather conditions on the region”