Northern Ireland's water company was today accused of "cake-eating smugness"as it emerged the body spent thousands for 60 senior managers to mark its controversial first year of operations.
The one-day party-themed event at a luxury hotel was held just days after a high-level probe was announced into a multi-million pound gap in the company's revenue projections.
It has been learned that the organisation spent some £8,000 on a high-level hotel meeting to review its first 12 months and discuss the future.
The one-day senior management event at the Hilton Hotel, Templepatrick was held on April 16, just eight days after Northern Ireland's utility regulator announced an investigation into circumstances surrounding a multi-million pound gap in the company's financial projections.
And while Northern Ireland Water (NIW) has stressed the serious, work-focused nature of the day, criticism is being levelled at some of the more celebratory items involved.
These included a birthday cake with slices for every delegate, party bags with sweets, and pop music snippets to introduce presentations.
A leaked draft itinerary for the gathering refers to "party bags with sweets" being available on tables, a "birthday tea" at lunchtime with "sandwiches, cakes, jelly and ice cream" and " birthday branding" including banners and balloons.
A special birthday cake was scheduled to make an early appearance after a morning presentation to managers on Northern Ireland Water's first year by its chief executive Katharine Bryan.
The draft programme said the chief executive would be asked to stay on stage to cut the cake, as the lights dimmed, music played, and birthday imagery appeared on screen
The song snippet earmarked for the start of Ms Bryan's talk was from the U2 hit "Pride".
Other songs featured on the draft programme included "Praise You" by Fat Boy Slim, "Little Less Conversation" by Elvis, "Shine" by Take That and the theme tune of BBC comedy The Office.
The draft plans also included birthday cake slices being issued at the close of the event, while "It's my party and I'll cry if I want to" was being played.
MLA John Dallat, who sits on the Assembly committee that oversees water issues, today commented: "Cake-eating self congratulations and smugness will go down like a lead balloon with hard-pressed householders worried about water bills coming in next year.
"Fears in the community about the tap tax will have been increased by the recent revelation of a gap of some £18m in Northern Ireland Water's projected revenue for this year."
A spokesman for NIW strongly defended the event.
He said it was held in the Hilton Templepatrick as it provided the " necessary capacity and facilities for such a meeting".
The spokesman added: "The event format was via standard power point presentation, supported by some musical introduction, and is a standard low cost format representing good value for money. A cake was shared to acknowledge Northern Ireland Water's first year of operation.
"Ensuring the key senior managers within Northern Ireland Water understand the organisation's priorities and targets for the coming financial year is crucial to ensuring the organisation meets its commitments to customers, the environment and stakeholders."
NIW has confirmed that around 60 managers attended the event and the estimated cost was approximately £8,000.
The funding shortfall was exposed earlier this year following a recalculation of revenue from non-domestic customers.
The Consumer Council has claimed the situation could lead to higher household water bills, while NIW says it is aiming to keep any impact on customers to an absolute minimum.
It also stated that the revenue projections had been based on " assumptions and variables" that pre-dated its formation in April 2007.
Northern Ireland's utility regulator announced an investigation into the situation on April 8.