Belfast Telegraph

NI Water chief warns that planned budget cuts could disrupt supplies

By Allan Preston

Water supplies in Northern Ireland could be hit due to funding cuts, it has been claimed.

NI Water chief Sara Venning said the publicly-owned company had already reduced running costs by £65m in the last 10 years.

However, £22m in further savings are planned for the next four years. Those reductions could seriously disrupt supply, she cautioned.

“We recognise it’s a difficult time for the government generally and for the Department for Infrastructure specifically,” she told BBC Radio Ulster. “We’re a regulated utility and the utility regulator sets out the funding needs for NI Water. As an infrastructure provider I believe it is vital that we are funded in line with the utility regulator’s determination.”

She explained that proposed reductions from the Department of Finance before Christmas made maintaining quality “increasingly difficult”.

“The cuts that are being proposed could not be delivered by further efficiencies and actually they would erode the efficiencies that have been delivered to date,” she said.

While pledging to always protect drinking water, Ms Venning said people would most likely face supply interruptions.

“Customers have told us the impact of that can range from an inconvenience to actually a ‘bottom line’ impact,” she said. “If you’re a bakery, water is one of your raw ingredients and you really can’t have that resilience taken away or suffer a supply interruption over that night-time period.”

Other services facing disruption included drainage and removal of waste water.

“Whether you’re a manufacturer or food producer, you need your waste taken away and dealt with and that’s what we do,” added Ms Venning.

“If these cuts are put in place it will have a very real impact on business and the environment.”

The Budget Outlook for 2018-20, set out by the Department of  Finance in December outlined challenges for all Stormont departments.

The Department for Infrastructure’s resource budget is set at £138m.

Current demands mean only £19.8m would be available for energy and maintenance costs in 2018-19 and £11m in 2019-20 for energy and maintenance costs.

A fully resourced service is thought to cost £43m.

In January Gordon Best of the Quarry Products Association NI said the cuts could be disastrous for public services.

This included no winter service for salting and snow clearance in 2018-19.

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