Tuesday 17 October 2017

Questions that Irish Water must now answer

John Tierney, managing director of Irish Water, with one of the water meters being installed around the country.
John Tierney, managing director of Irish Water, with one of the water meters being installed around the country.
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

SENIOR management at Irish Water will appear before the Dail Environment committee today, and the Public Accounts Committee tomorrow, to answer questions about the €100m spent to date establishing the semi-state utility company.

Managing director John Tierney will be asked, in particular, to set out a detailed breakdown of the €50m spend on outside consultants, especially given that the Government expected the company to use in-house expertise to set up its systems.

Among the questions that must be answered are:

* How much money has been spent establishing the company, and is there a detailed breakdown of the start-up costs?

This is important, because it will allow TDs and senators to compare the costs against international experience.

* How much has been spent on external consultants, and why were they employed?

There has been little or no information about the spending on outside experts, and in particular why expertise needed to operate the water network, bill customers and maintain the network was needed.

* What are the names of these consultants, and what were they employed to do?

Given that Irish Water has drawn half its staff from local authorities, Bord Gais Eireann and the Department of the Environment, it had been expected that much of the work setting up the utility could be sourced from in-house. The company will have to explain why outside help was needed.

* What is the value of these contracts, and their duration?

As €50m in spending is involved, taxpayers should expect a detailed breakdown of the money spent to date. They should also be told the length of the contracts, to see what expenditure will be needed over the coming years.

* Are there shortfalls in expertise that will require consultants to be employed in the future?

If this is the case, should Irish Water employ staff capable of carrying out these functions?

* Is there a projected spend on consultants in the future?

An important point -- as the regulator will take into account ongoing costs when determining how much householders are expected to pay. A large spend on consultants will impact on bills.

* Why weren't existing Irish Water staff used to provide expertise in the areas of IT, asset management, customer billing systems and other areas?

Given that these are systems essential to operating the network, politicians will want to know if more staff need to be directly employed in these areas.

* How many staff have been hired by Irish Water?

Given that charges come into force from October 1, with bills to land the following January, it's important that people know the company will have enough staff to operate the system efficiently and as cheaply as possible without paying outside experts.

* Where have the staff come from?

While we know about half of all staff have been drawn from local authorities, Bord Gais Eireann and the Department of the Environment, we don't know if staff with expertise from other countries with water charges have been employed. These people would be crucial to avoid mistakes made in other countries.

* Have staff been directly recruited from consultancy firms that worked for Irish Water? If so, how many?

All staff positions should be publicly advertised to ensure transparency. If people have been directly employed from consultants, reasons for their appoint-ments should be given.

Irish Independent

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