ELECTION COUNTDOWN : Water chief's licence to coin it stirs Labour anger

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Poor Yorkshire Water. First, drought orders, leaking pipes and poor supplies. Then, national ridicule as its chief executive announces that he has not had a bath for three months. And now this.

The privatised firm's chairman, who is already facing accusations of fat-cattery, has been given a licence to print money, according to Labour.

Put precisely, Brandon Gough, who holds two quango chairmanships on top of his pounds 120,000 part-time job in Yorkshire, has just become head of the London banknote printers De La Rue.

Reaction as the news reached Labour's Millbank campaign headquarters veered between anger and hilarity.

But with the privatised utilities lobbying against the opposition's plans to impose a one-off tax on their profits, anger won out in the end.

Ian McCartney, Labour's employment spokesman, described Mr Gough's new post as "the ultimate fat-cat job: A licence to print money.

"What makes it all the more difficult to take is that these are fat cats that are organising against Labour's windfall tax, a tax which we will introduce to give quarter of a million young people a chance for one job. Meanwhile, Mr Gough has four," he said.

However, the much- employed Mr Gough, who is also chairman of the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Doctors' and Dentists' Pay Review Body, was unrepentant. His pay review body job was not paid, he said, and he regarded university funding as public service.

In any case, Yorkshire Water was not acting behind the scenes against the tax, he said, but was waiting to see how it developed.

"I don't really see the connection between my part-time jobs and the windfall tax," he said.

Mr Gough's new job, which he took on after the retirement of the Earl of Limerick from the post, was perfectly consistent with the plans for part-time work which he announced when he left Coopers & Lybrand, where he had been full-time chairman, in 1994.

"I am perfectly entitled, when offered these appointments, to take them," he said.

Since privatisation, Yorkshire Water has not received a good press, to put it mildly.

In the dry summer of 1995, with customers facing 24-hour cut-offs, its chief executive, Trevor Newton, revealed that neither he nor his wife had showered or bathed at home for three months. The claim turned out to be a public relations disaster, especially when Mrs Newton admitted her husband was hardly ever at home, anyway.

Labour made further capital out of the company's misery by pointing out that customers would not be coping with rationing if millions of gallons were not disappearing through holes in its water mains.