Page last updated at 18:17 GMT, Tuesday, 23 February 2010

NI Water 'must toughen job procedures'

Northern Ireland Water (NIW) must toughen up its procedures in relation to staff taking new jobs outside the organisation in order to protect the company's reputation, an internal report has revealed.

The recommendation stems from an investigation into a case where an NIW employee involved in awarding a contract to an outside company then went on to take a senior job with that company soon afterwards.

Both the individual and the company were cleared of any wrongdoing, but the investigation said "learning points" had emerged.

At the time the employee was bound by civil service rules on the appropriate authorisation he needed to take such a job.

His line manager approved the move, but the report said that was "not strictly in accordance" with the rules.

The investigation recommended that in future NIW must have "a robust approvals process" that takes account of the company's reputation as well as the rights of individuals to move freely to new jobs.

The details were obtained by the BBC through a Freedom of Information request.

'Office hearsay'

The investigation was launched after a senior manager received an anonymous letter in May 2009 from an employee who alleged the matter "stinks".

However, the inquiry did not find any evidence to support the whistleblower's allegations.

Strong feelings expressed by a number of staff in relation to the contract were "based on hearsay within the office", it found.

During the investigation, the head of the firm which won the contract revealed he had a long-standing friendship with the NIW employee, who later went on to work for him.

The report found that at the time of the tendering process, no process was in place for potential conflicts of interest to be disclosed.

Since April 2009, NIW employees on procurement panels have had to sign a conflict of interest document.

The report recommended that while decisions are being made about outsourcing, affected staff should be kept informed as much as possible.

NI Water began operating in April 2007 as a government-owned company, replacing the state functions of the Department of Regional Development's Water Services.

Civil service rules on transferring jobs still applied to former Water Service staff for another two years.

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