NI Water: Another Chief Executive resignation?

The BBC’s Jim Fitzpatrick reports that NI Water Chief Executive, Trevor Haslett, has “signalled that he wants to leave and return to private consultancy”.  Haslett has been in the post for almost 10 months, after stepping into the vacancy caused by the defenestration of former Chief Executive Lawrence MacKenzie.  From the BBC report

NI Water was created as a state-owned company in 2004 with Ms Bryan at the helm and its structure suggested that it would ultimately be privatised.

But the devolved government took a different view and the company has since been reformed as a non-departmental public body which means it falls under the control of the Department of Regional Development.

Previous boss Mr MacKenzie drew criticism for his level of pay, at £250,000. It is understood that Mr Haslett receives much less than that, closer to £130,000.

This disparity may make it more attractive for Mr Haslett to work in private consulting.

The pay cap – along with the perception of political interference – may also make it harder for Northern Ireland Water to recruit a new chief executive from outside the company.  [added emphasis]

NI Water denied that Mr Haslett had resigned, but said discussions with him on his future were ongoing.

Interestingly, Mick noted at the time that

The Board is recommending that Trevor Hazlett, a civil engineer with 30 years experience at NI Water (and direct responsibility for industrial procurement), as MacKenzie’s replacement. Hazlett is a highly respected member of staff, but has no board level experience. It remains to be seen whether he has the capacity to step up two rungs in one go.

According to the NI Water website – which lists him as still “Acting Chief Executive”

Trevor worked for DRD Water Service for almost 30 years prior to the inception of Northern Ireland Water in 2007. He has held senior posts in Operations and Engineering and also worked in the private sector as Director of a civil engineering contracting company working throughout the UK.

Since his appointment we’ve had the PAC report, threats of legal action, and the semi-return of Mr Priestly.

Hmm… Resignation?  Or hard-nosed negotiation?

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  • Cynic2

    He hasn’t resigned. He has ‘signaled’ he wishes to return to consultancy where he can probably earn twice what NIW is paying him.

    Still I am sure we can find someone closely linked to one or other of the parties where who will be delighted to do the job. Indeed, why not put Priestly himself in charge. After all it doesn’t really matter – its only money

  • Cynic2

    On rereading my last post I didn’t make myself clear. The candidate doesnt have to be competent. Just cheap and well connected

  • It is understood that Mr Haslett receives much less than that, closer to £130,000.

    This disparity may make it more attractive for Mr Haslett to work in private consulting.

    The “disparity” presumably existed when he took the post in the first place all of 10 months ago.

    And 10 months is coming up to…12 months and presumably the next salary review?

  • sherdy

    A watery graveyard?

  • Cynic2

    The point is simple. If we want competent national standard players to run big businesses efficiently we have to pay them.

  • loyson

    As an NI Water employee, I’d be gutted to see Trevor go. He has really steadied the ship this year and morale has improved so much. It’s been reassuring to have a guy at the top who understands the business.

  • NI Water is not big business on a national scale. It is a very small business on a national scale, and not even close to national standard. It is a very large salary for a regional manager, though probably not enough to have to handle the meddling of the civil service which makes business management near impossible.

  • Dearbhla

    Man I’d hate to be living on the poverty level that is 130,000!!! Good riddance if thats what he’s at and I think its time for good riddance to this organisation. If the Assembly has responsibility for water let them take it on directly. Its about time they took on responsibility for something!! Remember they used to say that councils here only had responsibility for bogs bins and burials?? Well hell if Stormont had responsibility for making decisions on those we’d be up to our oxters in corpses and crap.

  • Tell us more Loyson, and inform the discussion.

  • Mick Fealty

    Well, to give you an example, the guy who runs Phoenix Gas (they run most of the services in Bangor and Belfast) gets something in the region of £700k pa. Or 28 times the average salary.

    I’m not suggesting that’s typical of the private sector, but Trevor was an operations man, not an executive. And he was paid an acting up salary for a position virtually no one in the industry now wants (given the loss of four CEOs in as many years, not to mention the shabby treatment meted out to the last board).

    To be fair to the Civil Service they were never gifted the particular skills required to manage a technically complex water company (some of which is about handling tenders by highly specialised contractors, others to do with managing a governance system that’s been allowed get too complex under the previous Minister), whether it is to be brought in house, mutualised or privatised.

    At least it ought to be realised now from the ideological games it was subject to from the onset of local rule here, and which have contributed (though not necessarily) a very difficult four years.

    Some clarity would be welcome on last year’s debacle… and the details of what went wrong made public.

  • McKavanaghs

    As an NIW employee I am disappointed at the news that Trevor Haslett is considering resignation, not because I think he, as Loyson seems to be suggesting, oversaw a sizeable improvement in morale (because he hasn’t) but because his reason for doing so appears to be all about the money. Many NIW staff had high hopes he would be different from the previous holders of the CEO post. Its a pity that they may now feel he wasn’t. Mind you, that’s likely to be quickly overshadowed by thoughts of potential replacements.

  • Mick Fealty

    Indeed. What replacements? The politicking around NI Water has made a moderately difficult job nigh on impossible.

  • McKavanaghs

    Its worth noting that Trevor is there on an interim basis so its not so much that his departure would create a vacancy as place additional emphasis on the need to fill the one that has existed since Laurence left. A quick fix might be to install someone from in-house and I can imagine there are at least two potential candidates who would be less than reluctant to give it a go. But I accept your point that its a bit of a poisoned chalice.

  • aquifer

    The Executive putting off big decisions again and no water metering yet, but Hazlett as a civil engineer knows that putting off big decisions costs in terms of the infrastructure. Why suffer in silence when you can get good money for doing a job well in the private sector?

  • Cynic2

    “Man I’d hate to be living on the poverty level that is 130,000!!!”

    The difference may be that he CAN do the job,

  • Cynic2

    By the way, whatever happened on the expensive investigation into last winters shambles? Has it ever reported?

    Are those consultants including the Facebiook Friend of Conor Murphy still beavering away? At what cost and why 10 months later and in the face of another winter do we not know what happened?

  • loyson

    I can only speak about what I have seen as a middle manager within the Company. I don’t know him personally and I think I’ve only spoken to him a couple of times but he has always been upfront and honest with us as staff. He is a water industry man through and through with experience in all levels of the business. Trevor is liked and respected by the company executive directors where I believe the last incumbent was loathed. I have noticed that I have been allowed to get on with my job over the past 10 months, which is a refreshing change to the constant meddling that I was getting used to. Finally, I am convinced that the Company will respond much better to the next major incident after his management over the past 10 months.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “The water company’s external auditors found it had spent £4.7 million in 2010-11 in breach of procurement regulations and financial delegations set by the Department for Regional Development (DRD), its sole shareholder. This followed non-compliant expenditure of £5.3 million in 2009-10”
    http://www.utilityweek.co.uk/news/news_story.asp?id=196047&title=NI+Water+audit+finds+%26%23163%3B25m+spending+irregularities

    Seems like not much had changed in NIW…

    On the other hand, NIW were getting Haslett cheap, too cheap and he had no job security. Given the mess he was left to sort out, then surely the man was entitled to at least the same as Laurence?

    Why not second Mr Priestly? I’m sure he’d have all the answers….Plus he’d be even cheaper with his demotion and all 😀

  • loyson

    “The water company’s external auditors found it had spent £4.7 million in 2010-11 in breach of procurement regulations and financial delegations set by the Department for Regional Development (DRD), its sole shareholder. This followed non-compliant expenditure of £5.3 million in 2009-10″
     
    I really don’t want to be sticking up for the Company so much but this is old news. The investigation showed that 2-3% of what the Company spent either was not in line or may not have been in line with DRD regulations. None of this spending was seen to be illegal or dishonest nor was the money wasted. This would hardly register as an agenda item for a similar sized private company. But don’t let the truth stop you jumping on the bandwagon, its easy, fun and everyone else is doing it!

  • Pigeon Toes

    DRD aint so hot on the regulations either….

    I should have made myself clearer.

    The whole debacle instigated by DRD (and the sacking of the NED’s) was justified by DRD because allegedly procurement rules had been breached, and that these sackings would herald a new era of propriety under Laurence’s stewardship….Seemingly not though…

  • Pigeon Toes

    Seemingly not though…which makes me wonder how much of the contracts tossed into that particular mix were truly in breach of procurement regulations.

  • Mick Fealty

    Pigeon Toes point is less made at the expense of the Trevor than of the sham trial of the previous board on foot of recommendations by Mr Priestley’s so-called ICT.

    So shall we sack the current Board?

    Of course not!

    There never was a *serious* breach of procurement practice; or at least not at the smaller Single Tender Action end (which is intended, amongst other things, to provide operational flexibility). I’m pretty convinced other matters did actually constitute a *very* serious value for money problem with some of the bigger, properly tendered contracts.

    This is where the nitty gritty lies. Not MLA salaries or expenses (though there’s no harm in asking value for money questions there too, it’s minor league stuff in comparison).

    You need to recruit good people and then you need to let them get on with the job of securing value for money. Particularly when it comes to dealing with private contractors.

    That does mean, I’m afraid to say, that you need to pay the going rate for the right kind of talent. If you don’t, you will simply pay for it in lost expenditure for hospitals and schools (and sapped morale in a key public service).

  • malairt

    It depends on your definition of breach. The public procurement regulations are there to protect the public purse and to ensure fair access to potential suppliers. There will be occasions where applying the regulations to the letter doesn’t make sense and provided there is a clear and auditable decision making process, I don’t see anything wrong in applying common sense. There are many reasons why public procurement is so poor in terms of ensuring value for money in comparison to the private sector: this is one of them.

  • Mick Fealty

    Sorry malairt, I’ve amended my blanket statement. It now reads rather closer to your correct summation that its quality not just numbers that matters. Something I was at pains to point out all through the ‘crisis’ of last summer (as opposed to the winter one).

  • malairt

    Thanks Mick – wow you’re quick!

    I would guess that one of the reasons why Trevor has indicated he’s like to go is that the job of CEO at NIW is just impossible. A tiny example is that it’s taken them 10 months so far not to find a replacement, which is unfair on the chap asked to take on the burden of responsibility while not knowing if they’re going to get confirmed in the job. It’s also strange not to pay him the rate for the job, which according to the press at the time of MacKenzies demise was £180k. Better to bring in an interim, to keep the plates spinning while the great and the good consider and reflect.

    Northern Ireland has had a great opportunity over the last 5 years to get its relationship right with its most essential public service and has materially failed. The combination of political oversight, Civil Service meddling and a vociferous public interest lobby (including CCNI, NIAUR, the Belfast Telegraph, Uncle TC & all) makes the job of leading NIW all but impossible.

    Until there’s an arms length relationship that is supported by all stakeholders, such as exists in Wales & Scotland – assuming NI wants to follow the public ownership model) – whoever is the leader of NIW will struggle to balance the competing and contradictory priorities.

    Being the 5th CEO in 3 years must be a daunting thought for any would applicants

  • “Since his appointment we’ve had the PAC report, threats of legal action, and the semi-return of Mr Priestly.”

    Here’s some additional very relevant material to set some problems in context. Paul Priestly AFAIK is out of the DRD-NIW loop and his successor, Malcolm McKibbin, has become Head of NICS (October 17). The new PS is David Orr and his deputy, Barry Jordan, looks after water. Gary Fair and John Mills are still there but Lian Patterson has gone.

    Minister Conor Murphy (SF) and his SpAd have been replaced by Danny Kennedy (UUP) and his SpAd.

    So big changes all round not only in personnel but, most probably, also in management competence and style. With the imminent departure of Trevor Haslett can we look forward to more communication/management problems if there’s severe weather?

  • The last NI Water Board minutes published online are dated 20 April 2011 and they’re not user friendly ie there’s no simple ‘copy and paste’ facility. These are two further examples of NI Water bad practice.

    However there was a discussion on pay then which might be relevant to this conversation:

    The Board noted the background to and submission of a pay remit to DRD on behalf of the organisation. There followed some discussion in relation to the approach being taken within the Civil Service in relation to cost of living increases. The Chairman agreed to clarify this position. The Chief Executive noted that the 2 year pay freeze in relation to the Company was due to end in March 2012. The Board noted the potential risk for key staff leaving the organisation as a result of the pay freeze. It was agreed that business cases might be needed to support the retention of such key resources. The Board also agreed that an update should be provided to staff in relation to ongoing performance related pay issues.”

  • Mick Fealty

    I suspect DFP is squeezing the minister on DRD budgets (not really a surprise, I suppose). But can the Minister afford to let Trevor go at this stage, with a heavy winter ahead.

    There are two excellent replacements who could be available to take over, but senior management is still tying itself in knots over them, due to the poisoned legacy of last year’s internal power struggles.

    Mr Murphy has left his constituency colleague Mr Kennedy a very fine mess to clear up… A bit like the ECB and Greece it is not yet clear where the latent power actually lies in this game of corporate poker.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “Emergency talks at NI Water are ongoing as the company tries to persuade its chief executive to stay in post.

    Trevor Haslett has said he wants to resign over what appear to be issues surrounding security of tenure.

    He wants a two-year contract and a pay rise but that appears to have been blocked by Stormont.

    Mr Haslett replaced previous boss Laurence MacKenzie who resigned in January following last year’s water crisis.

    A spokesman for the Department of Regional Development said no letter of resignation has been received and that the board is in discussion with Mr Haslett and is keeping the minister informed.

    Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy met the company chairman, Sean Hogan, this morning. Any changes or new appointment will require Mr Kennedy’s approval.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-15577179

  • Pigeon Toes

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-15589285

    “The BBC understands that Northern Ireland Water boss Trevor Haslett has reversed his plans to resign and hopes to stay at the company.

    Acting Chief Executive Trevor Haslett wanted security of tenure with a two-year contract and a £20,000 pay rise.

    That request was initially overruled by Stormont, but it now seems it will be approved by Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy at least.

    However, the deal needs the approval of Finance Minister Sammy Wilson”

    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xuk1y_the-clash-should-i-stay-or-should-i_music#rel-page-1

  • Mick Fealty

    Phew… All kinds of mess avoided there… Negotiation by media seems to be the only way to get things done at NI Water…

  • PT, the BBC has, er, now changed its story:

    The regional development minister has said he will not be “stampeded” into a decision over a new contract for the chief executive of NI Water.

    Trevor Haslett is understood to have reversed his plans to resign and hopes to stay at the company.

    Acting chief executive Mr Haslett wanted security of tenure with a two-year contract and a £20,000 pay rise.

    That has been approved by the company, but Mr Kennedy and Finance Minister Sammy Wilson have the final say.

    Mr Kennedy said he was “not going to be stampeded, I’m not going to be rushed”.

    “I need to give that careful assessment and I will also want to consult with my ministerial colleagues,” he added.

    “I’m going to take decisions that are in the best interests, I believe, of Northern Ireland Water

    “I think the important is that we maintain the stability that Northern Ireland Water needs at this time as we approach the winter.

    “I think Trevor Haslett has made a significant contribution to maintaining that stability.”

  • Well Sammy and Danny can

    A) accept the recommendation;

    B) challenge it and attempt to effect a change in the offer;ranging from effectively accepting the recommendation and adding some riders to presumably vetoing the extra £20k;

    C) let Trevor go;

    D) sack the Board.

    On recent history anything is possible but my bet is that they opt for B) as they will wish to demonstrate their added value by adding some additional performance measures to ensure maximum VFM for the public purse in an age of austerity.

    Timescale: two to three weeks even though you and I could make a decision on Monday morning before breakfast.

  • malairt

    That must be the first positive statement I’ve seen on Laurence MacKenzie. I think that the coverage MacKenzie got on this website was not only warranted but only a fraction of what could have been said on a website that allowed more playing of the man. [text removed by request – Ed]

    I have to disagree on your comment about the Executive Committee – Trevor wasn’t promoted to the Exec, he was already on it MacKenzie created a new Exec by simply truncating the old one through telling half of the members not to turn up at the Exec meetings anymore.

    As for recognising Trevor’s abilities, Katherine Bryan and Chris Mellor had tremendous admiration for the man as demonstrated at each Exec meeting.

  • An interesting contribution from brrokvent. How would someone with such an intimate knowledge not be able to spell Laurence MacKenzie?

  • Pigeon Toes

    “devious and unprincipled” No doubt they will go far…

  • malairt

    And following Nevin’s link through MacKenzie to Paul Priestly, you find that Paul is no longer in the NICS but is advertising himself as a “Project finance and business development consultant”. And drafter of letters presumably.

  • “simply truncating the old one through telling half of the members not to turn up at the Exec meetings anymore.”

    malairt, your comment coincides with something I wrote on NALIL over a year ago and just updated:

    The Executive Team became the Executive Committee on November 16, 2009, the day of the ‘get used to it’ remarks. The number of senior staff regularly attending Executive meetings appears to have been severely pruned from about 10 down to 6.

    The quality of BBC reporting on this story has been exposed by News Sniffer; it seems the excitement led the BBC to lose the run of itself.

  • brrokvent

    No – McKenzie did not try to dismiss Trevor. People should take great care when making such defamatory statements. If there is evidence that he did then let’s have it please. If not then I respectfully suggest the post is removed. If the other CEOs mentioned had suach a high regard for Trevor why was he held back for so long? Why was someone else brought in to effectively be his boss when he was looking after procurement? Why did they not listen to his wise counsel on that large outsorcing contract for the call cenre and billing? One of the great problems with people is they think comment is free. Perhaps on this website it is? That’s a great pity.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Mal,
    Priestly has been seconded to the private sector,but still being paid by the taxpayer.

  • Pigeon Toes

    I asked a question.That is neither defamatory nor libelous.However,claiming that identifiable people are “devious and unprincipled” etc.is likely to fall into that category.
    Still i’s nice to see the ex CEO still garners some support…

  • “saw Trevor’s potential and depth and promoted him to the Executive Committee”

    brrokvent, here is Trevor Haslett at an Executive meeting more than two years before the arrival of Laurence MacKenzie:

    MINUTES OF NI WATER EXECUTIVE TEAM MEETING HELD ON WEDNESDAY 11 APRIL 2007

    Present:

    Katharine Bryan
    Chief Executive

    Phil Barker
    Director of Operations

    George Butler
    Director of Asset Management

    Trevor Haslett
    Director of Engineering & Procurement

    Ronan Larkin
    Director of Finance & Regulation

    etc”

  • brrokvent

    Ah Mal! LinkedIn is a wonderful tool; you just lost your anonimity.

  • Mick Fealty

    PT, I would echo what Brrokvent just said. In all my travels in NIW, I’ve never even heard a rumour to that effect. Absolutely precision in these matters is imperative!!

  • Pigeon Toes

    Mick,
    I read it on this site 7th Jan 2011,by someone who seemed to have some depth of knowledge re the internal goings on My apologies…

  • Very good PT, you’d do well in a courtroom.

  • Mick Fealty

    Those earlier references have also now been removed…

  • Mick Fealty

    It’s very important that people do not over step the legal line. I have no intention of fighting legal battles over material I cannot independently corroborate.. Nor should you…

    BTW, that goes for Mr Brrokvent too…

  • malairt

    Sorry Mick.

    @Ms. brrokvent

    Who are you thinking of that was brought in to effectively be Trevor’s boss when he was head of procurement? When he had control of both parts of purchasing, his boss was Katherine Bryan. And when G&S purchasing was split off to join the PPP’s as Commercial Directorate his boss was still Katherine Bryan.

    If you mean the Steria contract, that’s interesting. There were many with doubts about that contract but I wasn’t aware that Trevor was one of them.

  • “Those earlier references have also now been removed…”

    Mick, can you please remove my link-back to such a reference? Thanks.