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Water company board members sacked over procurement failures

Four Northern Ireland Water board members have been sacked following an independent review of the company’s procurement procedures.

The review said that the company’s “significant” failures to follow the correct procedures for the awarding of contracts “represent a serious breakdown in the governance and control framework of Northern Ireland Water”.

Chairman Chris Mellor and non-executive directors John Ballard, Ruth Thompson and Declan Gormley lost their jobs over the findings.

It was found that governance procedures were not followed in the awarding of 21 contracts totalling £8.4M. Further “deep dive” audit work is ongoing.

“[Consumers] need to know that they are getting the best possible value for their money and the reality is now they don’t know.”

Antoinette McKeown, NI Consumer Council

The report by the independent review did not identify the executives responsible but recommended that Northern Ireland Water chief executive Laurence MacKenzie determine who was responsible, enforce disciplinary action, and “review the structure of the Executive Team including lines of accountability and responsibility”.

NI Consumer Council chief executive Antoinette McKeown said consumers must be informed about the implications of the findings. “They need to know that they are getting the best possible value for their money and the reality is now they don’t know,” she said.

MacKenzie called the review “a robust and challenging process”. “I look forward to taking the action necessary to improve controls and expect to be able to report early progress to the Minister [for Regional Development Conor Murphy],” he said. “I would like to reassure customers that this has no effect on their service.

“My commitment to ensuring that appropriate financial controls are in place within NI Water is absolute.”

The independent review was commissioned following an Internal Audit which revealed instances where single tender actions had been executed without approval internally or from the Department of Regional Development, as well as one instance where a contract was extended beyond the time period for which it was publicly procured.

The news came days after Northern Ireland Water was fined over £2,000 for polluting the River Lagan in Belfast when a storm tank at Newtownbreda Wastewater Treatment Works overflowed.

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