Water bosses face the chop

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The Independent Online
FRESH boardroom changes at draught-stricken Yorkshire Water are predicted by industry insiders in the wake of an official admission that chairman Sir Gordon Jones is to quit "as soon as possible".

Sources close to the company yesterday revealed that "a complete clear- out" of executive directors is on the cards after the firm's annus horibilis in 1995.

Executive director Tony Ward is "due to go shortly", while finance director Malcolm Batty has already gone. He has been replaced by Brian Wilson, former finance director of the privatised power utility Norweb.

The remaining two executive board members, managing director Trevor Newton and Jonson Cox, managing director of environmental services, are officially said to be "stable and static." They have "no plans to leave the company". But reliable sources claim that the entire board will be swept away in a massive top-down reconstruction.

Sir Gordon Jones, the pounds 84,000 a year chairman, is to step down long before his compulsory retirement date of February 1997. The search is on for a new chief, and shadow environment secretary Frank Dobson has sharply criticised Yorkshire Water for looking initially at candidates drawn from other privatised utilities - particularly Norweb and NorthWest Water, where executives have been "released" by takeovers.

An industry source said: "I would not be surprised if further heads were to roll. Institutional investors are not happy about all the bad publicity, and the massive tankering operation from Northumberland to take water to the textile and engineering centres must be costing a fortune. There is even talk of political pressure."

Mr Newton famously bathed in a washing-up bowl for three months to save water, but his gesture was somewhat devalued by the disclosure that he had had baths outside the company's distrubution area.

Mrs Diana Scott, spokeswoman for WaterWatch Yorkshire, welcomed the prospect of further board changes. "I would like to see all the board go," she said. "The customers have lost confidence. We see the board retiring en bloc as the only way of getting back customer confidence in Yorkshire Water. Credibility with the shareholders will follow that."

There is also a question mark over some of the company's five non-executive directors, whom WaterWatch Yorkshire accuse of being slow to push through necessary changes at the top.

David Cramb, the senior non-executive director, a board member of the Tunstall Group, is close to stepping down as he has almost reached the compulsory retirement age of 70.

The other non-executive directors are Peter Flesher, Dr Christopher Honeybourne of Allied Colloids, Patricia Marsh and Colin Cooke of Triplex Lloyd. Yorkshire Water insists that none of them have any plans to retire.

"The non-executive directors might also like to examine their consciences," said Mrs Scott. "I think they are guilty of letting customers down."