Belfast Telegraph

Profits at NI Water soar to £80m

Northern Ireland Water has seen its profits soar to £80 million — despite facing its worst ever crisis last winter.

Profits are up £23 million from £57 million in 2010 and it follows last year’s particularly harsh winter that wreaked havoc across the province.

At the height of the Christmas freeze, the NI Water helpline received one million calls because of burst pipes and water problems. Thousands of homes were left without water — some for up to 12 days.

Economist John Simpson, said the big freeze of 2010-2011 had no bearing on profit margins. This has nothing to do with the meltdown during the winter of severe discontent,” said Mr Simpson.

“In terms of the accounts it’s the equivalent of half a penny in a budget of hundreds of millions.

“It was a big political issue, not a big financial one, and in the grand scheme of things it was just a 10-day wonder that would have a negligible bearing on profits.”

As a result of recent profits, NI Water's finance director Ronan Larkin said improvements could be made.

“We are able to continue to deal with investment programmes in our water mains as well as our customer systems, seeking to make sure that we can deal with customer telephone calls in a better way that we had been able to deal with them back in December 2010.”

Earlier this year NI Water’s chief executive Laurence MacKenzie resigned over his handling of the emergency, and he admitted better channels of communication should have been in place to deal with the calamitous situation.

A subsequent investigation by the Utility Regulator Shane Lynch found that NI Water was not prepared to deal with the magnitude of the crisis.

Despite this criticism, however, today’s annual report shows a year of business plan progress from a profitable firm.

The accounts show annual revenue of £403m generating an after-tax profit of £80m for reinvestment in the business, subject to public expenditure constraints.

NI Water is paying a dividend of £36m after the year-end to its sole shareholder, the Department of Regional Development (DRD), as a return to the taxpayer.

The crisis that affected Northern Ireland's water service resulted in around 40,000 properties off supply at its peak. It also led to Northern Ireland being compared to a third world country.



Background

During the big freeze in 2010-2011, some properties were off supply for up to 12 days.

NI Water blamed the rapid thaw, after a period of record low temperatures, for causing an unprecedented amount of burst pipes in the system.

The company also cited historic underinvestment in Northern Ireland's infrastructure as a contributing factor.

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