Irish Water’s Elizabeth Arnett
*brushes off pastry crumb*
Elizabeth Arnett spokesperson for Irish Water went on Today with Sean O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio One this morning to respond to comments made by Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd.
Mr O’Dowd, who helped introduce Irish Water as a junior environment minister, said the semi state company was “an abject failure’ to date and fast becoming “another cosseted quango with a bonus culture”.
Grab a Volvic.
Sean O’Rourke: “Back to our top story of the day, that’s the broadside against Irish Water by the former Minister for State at the Department of the Environment, Fergus O’Dowd, the heading on his piece in this morning’s Independent is “the organisation that I helped establish now comes across as arrogant and uncaring,” he also said that it had abjectly failed in selling its message to computers, sorry, not to computers, to commuters, sorry, to consumers I should say and also, he fears it’s becoming another cosseted quango with a bonus culture. Elizabeth Arnott is spokesperson for Irish Water, she’s with me in studio, good morning to you, thank you for coming in, this is an attack which I suspect you didn’t see coming, and did not expect from that quarter…”
Elizabeth Arnett: “Well, I suppose, I looked at the papers with everybody else this morning, and look I think I’d have to acknowledge that the Deputy has made the points that he wanted to make, I’d respectfully disagree with some of them, I think particularly around the whole issue of the message and what people need to be hearing from Irish Water. For instance, I’ve been doing a lot of media interviews, I’m sure people are sick listening to me, and we’ve been taking thousands and thousands of phone calls every day from people and I think the key thing people need to know is how much am I actually going to pay. And last week, with the announcement from the Regulator, we were finally able to bring clarity around that issue.
That’s not to set aside the importance of the conservation message and we’ve done quite a lot of bit in relation to that with an ad campaign previously and working with green schools etc., and actually, I don’t know if you remember, Sean, you interviewed me when I was involved in the ‘Race Against Waste’ campaign many years ago and you know, that whole side of the message is very important, but we can’t at this stage underestimate the importance of people’s desire to know what does this mean for me and my family, how am I going to budget for 2015 and that’s, they’re the answers that we’re endeavouring to try and answer.”
O’Rourke: “In addition to those questions and Fergus O’Dowd, I think, points to this, they want to know not just how much am I going to pay but how much are you going to pay yourselves in Irish Water, again the bonus culture, he says, that should immediately be stamped down.”
Arnett: “Well let’s just look at that again. The benefit, I think, of having independent regulation for a company like Irish Water is that we can’t spend any money unless the Regulator says that that’s the right amount on the right activity and represents good value to customers, and part of the Regulator’s decision last week was to look at the costs in Irish Water to look at set up costs and to declare what is good value to customers and what isn’t.
And the Regulator has and we would acknowledge has set us some very ambitious targets in terms of reducing costs in the industry, across the industry not just in certain parts of it but across the entire industry whereby we’d be taking out 14% in terms of operational costs between now and 2016 and that’s a very challenging target, but there’s no discretion here, we simply must meet these targets, we must.”
O’Rourke: “Sorry, the question about bonuses over a minute and a half ago…”
Arnett: “Oh, sorry, in relation to the bonuses, there are no bonuses in Irish Water, we have a performance-related pay structure approved by government that is in place in other utilities and effectively it means that part of your salary you don’t get unless you perform, and…”
O’Rourke: “Ah now, surely that is just calling a thing by another name, you’re saying that there’s a penalty clause instead of a bonus clause.”
Arnett: “Well Sean, you can look at it either which way you want, the reality is that a performance related pay scheme…”
O’Rourke: “A performance related pay scheme generally means one thing: bonus.”
Arnett: “No Sean it doesn’t, it means you’ve set targets and if you meet those targets you get the full entitlement if you don’t meet those targets you don’t.”
O’Rourke: “So, let’s just say somebody has a salary of €70,000 for the sake of argument, are you saying that a portion of that salary the worker or the employee is at risk of having a portion of that held back?”
Arnett: “Absolutely that’s a bonus related awards scheme.”
O’Rourke: “I suspect, I could be completely wrong, but I suspect our text line is going to go absolutely bananas with your contention along those lines.”
Arnett: “I would say to people in relation to that…”
O’Rourke: “That’s not how it was announced, that’s not the information imparted to the then Labour TD Kevin Humphries in the Dail, I think it was as far back as last January…”
Arnett: “Well Sean, all of the costs in terms of staff costs in Irish Water are included in the costs that have been approved by the Regulator. The structure whereby you would be holding back some of that salary and some of that wage and performance-linking, linking that to performance is the structure that we’re in and as I said that is government approved but I can certainly understand why people would get upset if they thought this was, you know, back to the bonus culture and I can assure it’s not.”
O’Rourke: “I’ve been given by our office upstairs some information as provided to Kevin Humphries as I say last January. It says that 165 staff will qualify for bonuses of up to 6.5 % of their salary while some 65 staff are set to be paid an extra 14% and also 29 Irish Water bosses are in line to be paid an additional 15% all 309 staff at the utility are eligible to be paid bonuses.”
Arnett: “Eligible to be paid performance related award and I think we can go over and back in terms of that and I hope I’m not frustrating people but…”
O’Rourke: “They’re going to accuse you of telling passive porkies. I’m sorry.”
Arnett: “Sean, I’m not telling porkies, I’m telling it as it is and I’m telling…”
O’Rourke: “This is the kind of spin that Fergus O’Dowd is railing against in today’s Irish Independent.”
Arnett: “This is – and he’s entirely entitled to make the points that he’s made – and I still would make the contention that this is a performance related award scheme that has been approved by Government.”
O’Rourke: “Okay and the point is as well I think that no performance payments have been paid so far but equally now the question is has anybody been docked for non-performance?”
Arnett: “Okay, well the process we’re in now, because as you know Irish Water was established at the start of this year and annual performance targets are set both for the company an for individuals and so there hasn’t been any payments made in relation to this and it will be looked at in the context of the performance of the company for the year.”
O’Rourke: “Again he says almost all of the advertising for the company is focused on demands, duties and deadlines rather than on the positive changes that water metering can bring It’s almost as if there is a conspiracy to make it as bureaucratic and nonsensical as possible, this is a major communications failure.”
Arnett: “Well, I certainly don’t accept that and I think the first ad campaign we rang was certainly very focused on the value of water, you take criticism when you do that and then you take criticism when you don’t and it’s just the nature of the job that I’m in, and I think the focus of our message at the moment is to bring clarity to customers as to what they can expect to pay and to reassure people that all of the measures introduced by Government in making the bills as affordable as possible, including free water for every house free water for every child, a medical capping, rebates if you can prove you’ve used less water when you go on a meter, capping of the charge for 9 months once you get a meter and actually the meter itself as a means to reduce your bill, all of these measures mean that our bill will be 40% less than that of the UK and this will be in place between now and the end of 2016 and I really do have to emphasise, and Sean I’ve been doing a lot of media interviews and taking with a lot of people, the question I’m asked time and time again is what am I going to pay, can you please eventually give clarity. If you are a single adult house your bill is 44 Euros per quarter irrespective of whether you have five children or ten children that’s your bill. If you have two adults in the house your bill is 77 Euros per quarter, coming in January, and again irrespective of the number of children you have, that covers 80% of the households in the country.”
O’Rourke: “How many households, and I know it’s early days because we have until the end of this month and I know it’s only the 7th October today, how many households have registered so far.”
Arnett: “Well I’ll be looking at that and maybe coming out with something on that later this week, we’re getting a very good response in terms of people posting back and I would be saying to people that if they can go online it’s a more convenient way for them to register it takes less than five minutes to fill out the form and to send it back, primarily the reason we’re asking people to do this is to confirm their details so that we get that right and so that we give them the allowances that they’re entitled to. We have another three weeks to go before the 31st October and the have packs only just finished being distributed to people so we’ve another few weeks to go on this one.”
Earlier: Meanwhile, On Clanbrassil Street