Thursday 18 January 2018

Irish Water's €1m bill for travel

Staff at embattled utility clocked up over 1.7 million kilometres in one year

The under-fire semi-state company, which has been ravaged by controversy since its establishment, defended the spending and said the figure accounted for 3,641 work-related trips
The under-fire semi-state company, which has been ravaged by controversy since its establishment, defended the spending and said the figure accounted for 3,641 work-related trips
Emma Jane Hade

Emma Jane Hade

Irish Water staff racked up a bill of nearly €1m last year on planes, trains and automobiles, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Staff at the embattled utility clocked up more than 1.7 million kilometres while on duty in 2015, ultimately costing €874,751.18.

This substantial bill included all money spent on public transport, as well as flights, mileage and taxi fares for Irish Water employees last year.

Almost 90pc of the total - some €780,000 - pertained specifically to "car travel expenses", which according to Irish Water, included claims from staff submitted for "mileage, toll charges and car parking expenses".

A total of €15,542 was spent on flights, while €67,686.61 was spent on trains, Luas and bus fares, according to documents released to the Sunday Independent through a Freedom of Information request.

A separate €11,982 was spent on taxis by Irish Water in 2015, an average of almost €1,000 per month.

The under-fire semi-state company, which has been ravaged by controversy since its establishment, defended the spending and said the figure accounted for 3,641 work-related trips.

However, this means that each trip cost an average of almost €237 each.

Read more: Irish Water boss admits conflict of interest to board

Irish Water defended the bill and said the company's policy stipulates that its 700 staff in 14 different locations should use "public transport where possible and use their own car only when absolutely necessary".

It said: "Journeys by car, subsequently claimed back in expenses, should only be undertaken when there is absolutely no suitable option available on public transport.

"Travel expenses are paid upfront by the employee and claimed back as an itemised business expense. Receipts must be provided before an expense claim can be signed off by a supervisor."

Of the €15,542 spent on flights, the company said they were all booked in economy class and at the lowest available price.

It added: "All of the flights were taken within Europe, well over half of them were to the UK.

"Personnel travelled to attend expert conferences, visit other water utilities and to attend meetings with the purpose of developing best practice in Irish Water and to share our expertise around operational issues and asset management, among other business concerns.

"All flights were economy class and booked to take advantage of the lowest available fare."

Last week, former trade union leader and senator Joe O'Toole was appointed to chair the expert commission to decide the future of charges and Irish Water.

Read more: Revealed: The experts tasked with solving the water charges debacle

The other members are OECD environmental director Dr Xavier Leflaive; former Scottish minister Peter Peacock, who currently chairs the Customer Forum for Water Scotland; Bill Emery, the chair of the Northern Ireland Utility Regulator; Brendan O'Mahony, the chair of the National Federation of Group Water Schemes; Sarah Hendry, an academic lawyer from the University of Dundee; Dr Andrew Kelly, an environmental economist and founder of EnvEcon; and Gritta Nottelman, a strategy consultant for Waternet in the Netherlands

The group will make recommendations on the future of Irish Water to an Oireachtas Commission before a Dail vote on water bills.

Sunday Independent

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