Politics

Saturday 2 August 2014

Minister fuming at Irish Water 'sweetheart deal' revelations

Fionnan Sheahan and Paul Melia

Published 27/01/2014|13:07

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Junior minister Sean Sherlock,Labour deputy for Cork East at Leinster House yesterday.Pic Tom Burke 5/12/13
Junior minister Sean Sherlock

A JUNIOR minister says he is "absolutely fuming" about revelations surrounding the transfer of staff from local authorities to Irish Water.

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Labour Party minister Sean Sherlock said the Government need to address the perception a "sweetheart deal" was done with the local authorities in the setting up of the new entity.

"As long as this is going on, it looks like the Government is presiding over 'politics as usual'. I have serious concerns about the manner in which this story is unfolding.

“The culture that still prevails in the local authorities, it is perceived they looked at it as an opportunity to feather their own nests, which I absolutely disagree with. I am absolutely fuming about it," he said.

Mr Sherlock also expressed his unease about the emergence of a bonus structure for staff in Irish Water.

"This idea of a bonus culture for doing your work is a throw back to the Celtic Tiger," he said.

Meanwhile, a voluntary redundancy scheme will be introduced to staff in local authorities working in the water sector.

Irish Water said it would set aside money to meet the cost of any package, and it was expected that schemes would be introduced “as required”.

The statement came after economic think-tank the ESRI warned the utility company would be forced to employ double the staff it needs which could add up to €150m a year to customer bills, or around €65 per household.

Agreeements reached with 34 local authorities which already operate the water network requires the same staffing numbers to remain in place for the next 12 years, unless cuts are agreed with unions.

Irish Water said the so-called Service Level Agreements (SLAs) would ensure that water services would be improved and costs of up to €2bn to be stripped out of the system by 2021.

There are currently 4,300 employed in the water sector, and the headcount would reduce “over time” as more plants are upgraded and automation introduced.

The company added that more than half of all staff in the sector were aged over 50, which would result in “significant natural attrition” over the coming years.

“Provision will also be made for voluntary redundancy schemes,” a spokeswoman said. “Voluntary Redundancy schemes have been introduced in the Local Authority sector in recent times and it is expected further schemes will be introduced as required.”

The Department of the Environment confirmed that redundancy scheme could be introduced as part of review of the SLAs.

The SLAs will be reviewed every year to ensure that savings are being delivered and plants operated as required.

Independent regulator, the Commission for Energy Regulation, will set out the standards to be achieved including efficiencies and Irish Water will be charged with ensuring sufficient staff are in place to meet the standards.

Irish Water added that Scottish Water employed 5,650 in 2002, but currently employs 3,540. It services 2.4 million households and 159,000 businesses, compared with 1.6 million households and 220,000 businesses which will be served by Irish Water.

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