Belfast Telegraph

Why does NI Water employ a director who doesn't even live in Northern Ireland?

By Chris Kilpatrick

Questions have been asked as to why under-fire NI Water employs a director who doesn't live in Northern Ireland.

John Rae, a non-executive director on the board of the company, lives in Scotland and flies over for meetings. He is paid a salary of £18,000 plus travel expenses.

Mr Rae is water operations director at Scottish Water and a board member of Scottish Water Solutions. He is also a non-executive director of the Water Regulations Advisory Service.

Last year Mr Rae attended all 20 meetings of the NI Water board which he was due to take part in.

Deprartment of Regional Development committee chair, DUP MLA Trevor Clarke, told the Belfast Telegraph: "I was surprised to learn a non-executive director of a NI water lives outside of Northern Ireland. I'm even more surprised his expenses back and forward are paid. It seems strange at a time when we are trying to make efficiencies and savings."

Mr Rae was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Asked what role he had played in the recent crisis, an NI Water spokeswoman said: "Like all board members he has been available throughout the incident providing strategic advice and support."

NI Water chief executive Sara Venning revealed earlier this week that one non-executive board member was based in Scotland.

"There were questions asked around could you find additional resource?" she told the DRD committee. "What did you do to look for additional resource?

"We looked right across GB. One of our non-executive directors is based in Scotland and he was very helpful in providing contacts and leads for us."

At the meeting, Mr Clarke asked: "A non-executive director of NI Water based in Scotland? How does that work?"

"He lives in Scotland," Ms Venning replied.

"So, how would he have any role to play in an organisation based in Northern Ireland?" asked Mr Clarke.

Ms Venning responded: "Well, a non-executive director is there to provide strategic direction.They attend board meetings.That particular individual has significant experience in the water industry and provides very expert and useful advice to the board. They are a very valuable member of the board."

Ms Venning said Mr Rae had provided vital information about how NI Water could access emergency resources if required during the recent crisis. DRD minister Danny Kennedy told the committee that non-executive directors were recruited through the public appointments process.

Mr Kennedy said: "The public appointments process is one I take an active interest in and I will continue to do, not just in respect to NI Water."

Ten things we learned this week

1. NI Water's Chief Executive Sara Venning made an embarrassing slip when asked who was in charge - the company or the unions. "I think it's the company," she said.

2 The £40k-a-year chairman of NI Water, Sean Hogan, is shy when it comes to talking to the public.

3. Almost 20% of NI Water staff's salaries are made up of overtime.

4. The majority of Northern Ireland Water staff work rigid 8am-6pm Monday to Friday shifts.

5. A non-executive director of NI Water lives in Scotland. He flies in to Northern Ireland for meetings.

6. Water treatment plants in the east are run differently from those hit hardest by water shortages in the west.

7. NI Water is to be probed by the utility regulator over its handling of the pension dispute and shortages.

8. The company was warned it needed major reform in an academic's report back in 2007. It wasn't acted upon.

9. The Red Cross was on the streets delivering vital water supplies last weekend.

10. Senior officials within NI Water blasted its outdated pension and overtime arrangements.

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