Tag Archives: Elizabeth Arnett

April 2015

Elizabeth Arnett, head of communications at Irish Water, with Alen Kelly, then Minister for the Environment, defend the Irish Water shambles.


Elizabeth Arnett, now head of corporate strategy at Ulster Bank, defends the institute’s tracker policy described as “robbery’ at a Joint Public Accounts Committee yesterday.

Good times.

Ulster Bank CEO absence blasted at hearing (Irish Examiner)


Elizabeth Arnett, the current spokesperson for Irish Water and former spokesperson for RPS Consulting Engineering 

On RTÉ Radio One’s This Week programme yesterday, journalist John Burke reported that, after five years and €2.2million in legal fees paid by Dublin City Council, the council has dropped its Supreme Court appeal against a High Court judgement made by Mr Justice Liam McKechnie in 2010.

In his judgement, Judge McKechnie found RPS Consulting Engineering – which had been hired by Dublin City Council to carry out a review of Dublin’s waste policy – had altered official data and waste reports to suit Dublin City Council’s agenda.

He also heavily criticised the then assistant city manager Matt Twomey.

In his ruling, Judge McKechnie said:

“In the course of the hearing, a number of draft reports, prepared by RPS and Dr Francis O’Toole were handed up to the court which contained comments written by the respondents indicating which parts of earlier drafts were acceptable to them and either deleting or rewording those parts which would not have supported their position. Whether or not the city managers were aware of this fact is, in my opinion, immaterial. Mr Twomey certainly was. Such massaging of reports which were later, in their edited versions, released publicly is a strong indicator to me of unacceptable influence in a process supposedly carried out in the public interest. Some view must have been formed in order for the process to start. However, in my opinion, the actions of the respondents in this case, and particularly Mr Twomey, go far beyond this. The indicator rigidity of mind so that from the start there could have been no other outcome. This is particularly serious, notwithstanding any subsequent public consultation. It is clear that such consultation not only did not have, but could not have had any affect on the outcome of the the variation process. It was a given from the start.”

On yesterday’s programme, Mr Burke played a clip from RPS’s then spokesperson, Elizabeth Arnett – the current Head of Communications and Corporate Service at Irish Water – after the ruling was made.

She told RTÉ’s Prime Time:

“RPS were certainly not massaging the figures and I want to categorically refute that. In producing a final report, you produce drafts and you edit and you consult with your client, to make sure you get the right result, that is the way we produce reports. That you get a report, that the figures can stand up. The Environmental Protection Agency can approve, the EPA can approve and all of the statue bodies can approve…We stand over all of the reports. We would never change fact and we would never change our opinion. We might reword, we might delete, we might sharpen up text, to edit it. We would never change fact and we would never change opinion. We make our money on our reputation to be able to provide facts and to provide opinion. I think the entire judgement is wrong.”

Readers will recall that, in November 2013, it emerged Dublin City Council had paid more than €30 million to RPS for its services over the previous ten years in relation to the Poolbeg incinerator, even though the council’s contract with RPS was originally estimated at €8.3million.

The European Commission eventually found that the contract did not conform with EU law.

Readers may also wish to recall that Jerry Grant, a former managing director of RPS from 2002 until 2012, is now Irish Water’s head of asset management.

There you go now.

Listen back in full here

Council drops appeal against Poolbeg incinerator judgment (Irish Times)

Previously:  The Insiders

‘The Contract Did Not Conform With EU Law’


Irish Water’s Elizabeth Arnett

Before Alan Kelly’s bruising appearance [on RTÉ Radio One’s Today with Sean O’Rourke] Elizabeth Arnett, head of communications at Irish Water spoke to Gavin Jennings on Morning Ireland.

Some morning, in fairness.

Gavin Jennings:“Elizabeth Arnett, less than half of households have paid up, do you accept that a clear majority have now said no to water charges?”

Elizabeth Arnett: “Well I think we’re six weeks in to the billing process for water services and to date 675,000 households are paying, which means that two million people woke up this morning, turned on their tap and flushed their toilet and they’re paying for that service.
It’s 46% of the revenue we targeted for this first quarter of billing so clearly we do have work to do, but I will say that 12 weeks in with no reminders having been sent out that we are very much in line with the expectations as to where we thought we would be at this point in time. UK utilities, which have been sending out water charges bills for over 20 years have on average a 3 month waiting period before customers pay their bill, that’s the average time 20 years into their billing process; we’re 12 weeks in we have sent no reminders and we have 46% of the revenue in. Now it’s a solid start, but clearly we have to move forward from here.”

Jennings: “A solid start? Less than 1/2 of people have paid, a clear majority have rejected water charges. Do you accept that?”

Arnett: “I don’t accept that this is an indication of a rejection. I think that 12 weeks in with no reminders issued to people, no sanctions….”

Jennings:“No reminders?”

Arnett: “No reminders issued.”

Jennings: “Representatives of your company or indeed from the government have been on national radio and television regularly over the last couple of months reminding people when they had to pay their water charges.”

Arnett: “Well let me tell you what utility companies do, that may be what governments do but when they issue bills to customers they also follow up with reminders and utility experience will tell us that reminders are what drives people to pay and what drives increases to pay. We didn’t issue any reminders as part of this billing cycle, in fact we know that up to 5% of our customers didn’t actually receive bills because we don’t have their information and taking that mitigating factor into account we’re almost half way where we needed to be and where we expected to be This is the first time this charge has been issued as a bill and the first time people have received this and over the last 12 weeks we’ve taken 140,000 phone calls from our customers engaging with us about the bill, to understand it, to get into the process of paying the bill. It does take time for new charges to bed down and we accept that and we have put in place from the outset financial facilities to ensure that we are fully funded by 2015 because we expect to be here.”

Jennings:“How many did you expect to pay by the end of the first billing period?”

Arnett: “Well it’s very difficult to put a figure on this because this is the first time.”

Jennings: “Did you have an expectation?”

Arnett: “No, because this is the first time. What we did expect that we wouldn’t have everyone paying, and that we needed to have a facility put in place…”

Jennings: Did you have a target?

“No. We haven’t a target specifically set for the first bill. What we have is by 2015 a target of €271 million from domestic customers.”

Jennings: “Of which you have €30 million by the end of June?”

Arnett: “The first billing cycle has yielded 30.5 million and we do expect that figure will increase as we send the second bill as we send reminders and as we increase the normal utility bill cycle over cycles 3 and 4 we do expect that number to increase.”

Jennings: ‘Why do you think that less than 1/2 of people have paid?”

Arnett: “Well, I think the first thing I would say is to thank those people who have paid, and the first thing I would say is that there will always be an issue in terms of people who cannot pay and will not pay or won’t pay. For those people who cannot pay there is a very important message today, this bill, the maximum you owe today is 64 Euros 11 cents, the minimum payment we will take today, from any day, is 5 Euros, so now is the time to take control of that bill.
The conservation grant – and 1.4 million households have registered for that, 1.1 of which are Irish Water customers, will be paid in September and that can be used to help reduce the bill, 4 out of 10 people who have a meter are paying, are billed substantially less than the 64.10 or the 40 Euros, so for those people conserving water with a meter and using the facilities that are available that’s the message to them, for those people who will not pay there’s an important message here, nobody this morning is saying we don’t need to invest in water services, that we don’t need to address the 49% leaks, that we don’t need to lift boiled water notices as we have in Roscommon recently, that we don’t need to address the head room or the lack of waste water treatment in 44 towns, we need to invest in water services, domestic revenue is giving us an opportunity to do that.”

Jennings: “For those who haven’t paid and who receive their next bill in the next couple of months, it’s going to be double, isn’t it, because it will be for two billing periods, but if they don’t pay, they don’t pay the next one and they don’t pay the fourth one it won’t be, correct me if I’m wrong, until the 5th one that they incur a penalty?”

“That’s Correct.”

Jennings: “Of what? 60 Euros”

Arnett: “60 Euros on the two adult household charge, which is a 260 Euro annual bill, and 30 Euros on the one adult household charge…”

Jennings: “So if I fail to pay the first one, the second one, the third one, the fourth one, we’ll be after a general election at that stage, so you’re not going to cut off my water and you’re not going to come after me for any money?”

Arnett: “We will not be cutting off services but we will be seeking payment as any normal utility will do. If there’s four bills outstanding additional charges will apply we don’t want to be collecting additional charges from people we want to be collecting charges for the services that we are providing, notwithstanding that additional charges will apply and there are additional measures then available.”

Jennings: “So if I don’t pay this bill my second bill my third bill or my fourth bill you won’t do anything?”

Arnett: “Oh, we will be contacting customers seeking payment.”

Jennings: “But I’ll still get my water without having paid for it?”

Arnett: “You’ll still get your water.”

Jennings:“Will I still get my grant?”

Arnett: “The grant is a separate process it’s been very well publicised and I think you do know I’ve actually said this to you in the studio before, I think you do know that you do”

Jennings: “Oh.”

“The conservation grant is available for registration it’s not linked to payment it’s linked to registration and its available to those people who have been paying for water services by providing their own well and septic tank and it’s available to Irish water customers. It’s not linked to payment it’s linked to registration.”

Jennings: “So just to be clear, if I don’t pay this bill, my second bill, my third bill and my fourth bill, I’ll continue to receive water, I pay any any penalties and I’ll still get 100 Euro from the government.”

Arnett: “Yes, that’s the position but 72% of customers have registered with Irish water one point one million of our customers have already registered with us, 46% of the Revenue is in and we start bill cycle 2 from here.”

Jennings: “If I don’t incur any penalty for not paying my first, second third or fourth bill and I get 100 Euros from the Government, why would I change my mind why would more than half of households who haven’t paid their water bill change their mind.”

Arnett:“Because our water services are failing today.”

Jennings: “But you’re fully funded into next year.”

“In terms of leakage, in terms of capacity of water supply in terms of risk of water supply and in terms of waste water. So we have to do things differently. The domestic revenue stream gives us the opportunity to leverage additional funding from capital markets in order to improve the network, no one is disputing that today, no one is coming on Morning Ireland this morning saying we don’t need to address…”

Jennings:“You’re not short of money for this year”

Arnett: “As always the funding is still there and we have a revenue stream from non-domestic customers, let’s not forget that when non domestic charges were introduced level of compliance was lower than now we have that revenue stream we have the domestic charge revenue, we have subvention from government, debt from government.”

Jennings: “So you don’t need..”

Arnett: “We absolutely do need ,the provision is a working capital facility, in order to manage cash flow a new business starting up will always put that facility in place because there is always a lag phase between the time you send your first bill and the time you get paid, any new start-up company will understand that so you put in place a working capital facility it’s an interest bearing loan so we have to pay it back…”

Jennings: “Are you going to spend more money on advertising to convince the other half of households who haven’t paid yet?”

Arnett: “The first thing we will do in terms of billing is we will send out the second bill, we know from utility eperience that when second bills arrive people start paying.”

Jennings: “Are you going to spend more on advertising”

Arnett: “We will be communicating to people…”

Jennings: “How much have you spent on advertising so far?”

Arnett:“As part of the previous campaign we spent over 600,000 on advertising.”

Jennings: “How much more are you going to spend?”

“I haven’t finalised the budget but we will be communicating…”

Jennings: “But you are going to spend more”

Arnett:“Yes, we will be communicating on all of the issues People have to understand this is a charge for a service and I think that’s an important message, we are providing water and waste water services and we need to invest and improve and provide good communication to everybody.”

Jennings: “Do you think the sanctions should be higher?”

Arnett: “No, I think actually if you take a sensible view, this this is a new charge for people and it’s on top of what has come at us in the previous years its’ not a popular charge, we accept that, and it is going to take time for this to bed down, people have to get used to managing this as part of their household budget and I think it’s reasonable that time frame for people do do that and I think what to say to people is to take control of that now, the most you’d owe us is 64.10, if you’re conserving, less than that, and what I would say is now is the time to engage with us…”

Jennings: “But if I don’t you’re not going to come on to me until the end of the 5th billing cycle?”

Arnett:“We add additional charges at the end of that but we are going to be reminding people to pay ,we do know from experience that does generate revenue.”

Jennings: “Elizabeth Arnett from Irish Water, thank you for speaking to us.”

Listen here (scroll down)


Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 12.28.26

Head of communications and corporate services at Irish Water, Elizabeth Arnett and Managing Director of Irish Water John Tierney leaving Leinster House on December 22, top, and the front page story on the Sunday Business Post on January 4

Elizabeth Arnett, of Irish Water, spoke with Marian Finucane yesterday on RTÉ Radio One in relation to a story that appeared in the Sunday Business Post on January 4 – claiming that the story was untrue.

Marian Finucane: “Last Sunday, the Sunday Business Post led with the story, ‘Secret deal with unions over Irish Water jobs’, and went on to say that documents seen by the Business Post showed that union leaders secured a guarantee from the Government not to fill positions in the water utility without the oversight of the Irish Water consultative group which composed of civil servants, council officials and up to 10 union representatives. And the other essence of the story was a secret deal to automatically fill vacancies among council staff working for Irish Water effectively removing a major weapon in the utility’s efforts to reduce costs. Now we got, we were approached by Irish Water and Elizabeth Arnett is here at last, might I say.”

Elizabeth Arnett: “My pleasure to be here, Marian.”

Finucane: “I’m delighted it’s your pleasure. Now you took exception to, the Business Post actually put the documents up on their website on Monday.”

Arnett: “Well I think that there’s two aspects to the story that I’d like to deal with. The first is that there was some kind of secret process or secret deal with unions and that simply isn’t the case. There is a process in place whereby, and it’s facilitated by the Labour Relations Commission, whereby all the parties are involved. This is a major transformation project that we’re involved in and there hasn’t been a project as large as this undertaken in the public sector before so it’s…”

Finucane: “We know all that stuff.”

Arnett: “So that’s the first point I want to make. The second point that I want to make is that the impression was given that we have some kind of deal that ties us in to elevated levels of staff within the local authority and that simply isn’t the case.”

Finucane: “Yes it does, yes it does. Because when you say, you know, that this is the most important thing and the most important that openness and transparency and accountability, it came as a dreadful surprise to an awful lot of people, that all the council workers had been moved over with contracts going to 2024.”

Arnett: “Well, that’s not the case, Marian.

Finucane: “It’s not the case.”

Arnett: “If I can just clarify and finish the point I was making firstly. The staff numbers that we started with, at the start of 2014 was 4,320. Today we have, that staff has been reduced by 10% through 2014. So we start 2015 with 3,919 there or there abouts, which constitutes about a 10% reduction in staff which is 8% off the salary bill there. So this notion that there was a secret deal to keep staff numbers in place simply isn’t the case. We have to…”

Finucane: “Well now, I’ll just quote again from last week’s one where, and I’m quoting Lucinda Creighton here, and she said that ‘the idea that when vacancies arise that there’s a cast-iron guarantee that they really replace, to be replaced, is really outrageous. That means that not only is Irish Water overstaffed from day one, it’s going to continue to be overstaffed for the forseeable future’ and she was the one who got the documents under Freedom of Information.”

Arnett: “Well she actually didn’t, she asked for the documents and they were given to her. I think if we have…”

Finucane: “I beg your pardon, I thought it was Freedom of Information.”

Arnett: “If we have, if I wasn’t here today saying, “we have reduced staff numbers by 10%, we’ve taken 8% out of the costs in relation to that”, then perhaps there might be some truth to that statement but the facts fly completely contrary to that. We have an arrangement in place to deliver substantial change which will see us taken €1.6billion out of the costs of delivering water services between now and 2021 and to think that you would..”

Finucane: “Sorry, you’re going to take €1.6billion out?”

Arnett: “Yes, we’re going to reduce the costs of providing water services by €1.6billion – €1.1billion in operating costs and €500million in delivery..”

Finucane: “Because I thought the whole thing is that we had to pay these charges so that you would have money to put in.”

Arnett: “Well there’s two things there, one is in terms of the investment into the network but we have to reduce the costs that we have, that we incur in delivering the services. As a regulated utility, the Regulator composes cost reduction targets…”

Finucane: “See, I know that politicians, particularly, and indeed your good self love talking about the Regulator. And there were lots of rows and arguments about electricity and the cost of electricity and all of that and it’s a beautiful way to offload responsibility to say, ‘it’s not me, Guv, it’s the Regulator’. Politicians say it, ‘the Regulator’, you say it’s the Regulator, so that basically means, like, that nobody can be giving out to you.”

Arnett: “Well no what I’m saying in relation to the Regulator is that they’ve imposed cost reduction targets on us and reducing staff numbers is one of those aspects that we would look at. Reducing all of our costs, across the board, is what we have to focus on and year-on-year.”

Finucane: “And so can I ask you, about this thing about not to fill positions in the water utility without the oversight of this consultative group and the consultative group is composed of civil servants, council officials, and up to 10 representatives.”

Arnett: “So in normal..”

Finucane: “Is that..”

Arnett: “That’s absolutely correct, so in normal industrial relations, you’d have management and unions represented. Just to be very clear the number of staff that we agree at the start of the year, is the ceiling in terms of the staff, it’s not the floor. So we can’t go above this certain level of staff. But in, during the year, and you could imagine with a staffing level of almost 4,000, you would have people leaving and you would have people retiring and you can’t leave frontline services unattended. You cannot leave frontline services not delivered.”

Finucane: “So they will be replaced?”

Arnett: “Of course, you would..”

Finucane: “And that will be done by this IWCG.”

Arnett: “It can be done within the local authorities themselves but it’s to the end of the year and then we agree a new staffing level for the next year.”

Finucane: “Right.”

Arnett: “The central point is staff are down 10% so the story just isn’t true.”

Finucane: “Well no, you can’t say the story isn’t true. You’ve just said that that is actually true so interpretated and I have noticed your skill, when asked before why we have to give our PPS numbers, you said, ‘in order to get your allowance’ but you never explained why a PPS number should be necessary in order to get an allowance.”

Arnett: “Well, PPS numbers are off the table so I won’t go back over that territory.”

Finucane: “It’s a question of how the information is delivered is what I’m really saying. ”

Meanwhile, yesterday’s Sunday Business Post reported:

New documents have provided further evidence of the secret deal with unions to fill vacancies among the council staff working for Irish Water. It comes despite attempts by Irish Water and the Department of the Environment to downplay the existence of the deal when it was revealed by The Sunday Business Post last week.

The agreement provided for the filling of vacancies to maintain the agreed headcount figure of 4,300 council staff positions in the water services sector last year. And it states that planned retirements of water service staff during the year will be automatically replaced.

Irish Water managing director John Tierney confirmed the existence of this agreement in an interview with The Sunday Business Post. There could be an internal transfer in the local authority itself, there could be a temporary filling up to the end of the year or it could be a post that is definitively required long term and you might fill it on a permanent basis, he said.

Listen back to Marian Finucane interview in full here

(Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland)