Monday 25 September 2017

Phil Hogan launches attack on economist over Irish Water staffing claims

Minister for the Enviroment Phil Hogan
Minister for the Enviroment Phil Hogan
Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

ENVIRONMENT Minister Phil Hogan has launched a scathing attack on high-profile ESRI economist John FitzGerald over proposed staffing levels in Irish Water.

Mr Hogan said that Professor Fitzgerald has failed to back up his claim that 4,300 local authority staff working in water services can be reduced to 1,700 in a few years.

"Making wild assertions of this nature is irresponsible, in particular by an economist," said Mr Hogan.

Prof FitzGerald provoked controversy following his analysis that Irish Water could incur extra costs of between €1.5bn and €2bn by having to employ over 2,000 staff it does not need.

He said based on the experience of other utility companies, the establishment of Irish Water should lead to savings of about 40pc – but this would not be possible based on current estimates of potential staff costs.

However, Mr Hogan has countered that relevant figures show the new Irish facility compares more than favourably with Scottish Water, and insisted the number of staff employed here will inevitably decline with the passage of time as greater efficiencies are demanded.

He also stressed that under existing structures, local authority staff working in water services can be reassigned to other areas of activity. He added that total local authority numbers have reduced by over a quarter in the last five years.

He said that Prof FitzGerald, in a report to the Environment Department in 2012, acknowledged that "obviously a substantial number of existing staff may be needed by the new company, not least to preserve some 'local knowledge'."

AGREEMENTS

"Well I can assure Prof FitzGerald that through the service level agreements (SLAs) between Irish Water and local authorities, there will be a smooth transition of responsibility for water services functions," he said.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail Environment spokesman Barry Cowen last night blamed Irish Water for job losses in his Offaly constituency. He claimed the first round of redundancies arising from its creation were announced yesterday.

He said Doolan Plant Hire was letting go up to 11 staff in his hometown of Clara.

"Doolan Plant Hire has been providing water maintenance and support work for Offaly County Council for many years and has grown as a result of the work arising from local authority needs," he said.

"However, since the Government appointed its super quango Irish Water, the firm has been told it can no longer expect to be a key delivery agent in water works in the county.

"I think this is a perfect example of bad government decisions having a significant local impact."

Irish Independent

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