Sir Gordon's terrible year

WHEN Sir Gordon Jones, the outgoing chairman of Yorkshire Water, comes to toast the New Year he, like the Queen before him, may look back on an annus horribilis like no other. It was the worst water shortage for a generation in Yorkshire, and however many times Sir Gordon and his cohorts blamed the weather, nobody believed them.

Instead he was lambasted by his customers, reviled by the water regulator, attacked by the National Rivers Authority for Yorkshire's leaking pipes, and finally ordered to London for acarpeting by the Environment Secretary, John Gummer.

But there were some crumbs of comfort, namely a pounds 189,000 salary, a pounds 160,000 profit dividend, and the prospect of a pounds 381,000 pension. The figures only served to incense his critics further.

The way Yorkshire Water has managed the water supply for its two and a half million customers this year confirmed all the worst fears raised in 1989 when the regional water monopolies were sold off as private companies.

In June Yorkshire had reported operating profits of pounds 200m on a turnover of pounds 500m, and celebrated by increasing its shareholders' dividend by 21 per cent. It meant the value of its shares had risen by 50 per cent since privatisation, and Sir Gordon, 68, was rewarded with a salary that had quadrupled. As a magnanimous gesture, the cash-rich company offered its customers a pounds 10 rebate each.

Yet within a few weeks the Yorkshire Water envelopes started dropping through letterboxes, not with cheery news of a cheque, but with a warning of supplies in reservoirs running low. It was time for the households of Yorkshire, be they in dales, moors, or gritstone towns, to start cleaning teeth with a cup of water rather than a running tap.

It was only a matter of days before 500,000 households in Bradford, Calderdale, Craven, Kirklees and parts of Leeds were put under a hosepipe ban. The crisis became so bad that Yorkshire Water also applied for an emergency abstraction order enabling it to pump an extra three million gallons of water a day from the River Wharfe. Environmentalists warned that the consequences could be dire for fish, plants and wildlife.

As the scorching sun beat down, one of Britain's wettest counties was suffering its worst water shortage for a generation. "Whenever rain has been forecast, it seems to have stopped falling before coming over the top of the Pennines," pleaded a company spokesman.

Yet its excuses wouldn't wash. The company was accused through greed and mismanagement of failing to modernise an antiquated pipe system that leaks nearly a third of the water it carries. And not just by consumer groups such as Yorkshire Water Watch, but by the Government quango, the National Rivers Authority.

It criticised the water companies for permitting some of the highest leakage rates in the developed world. The authority's demand that Yorkshire should supply them with weekly reports so that the situation could be monitored was followed by a summons from John Gummer that Sir Gordon should travel to London and proffer some sort of explanation for the sorry state of affairs.

Sir Gordon, however, refused to accept that he had been given a dressing- down by the Environment Secretary. But he did admit some culpability; "We didn't spend enough money on leakage reduction as a means of securing supply."

Sir Gordon, who lives outside Rotherham, spent much of his earlier career in heavy industry, spending time in several steel companies, before becoming chairman of publicly-owned Yorkshire Water in 1983.

If Sir Gordon had hoped the pressure on him would ease as the autumn slipped into winter, he was mistaken. The reservoir levels continued to sink. As a thousand tanker journeys a day were being made through Yorkshire to supply water, Yorkshire Water applied for a new drought order from John Gummer allowing it to stop replenishing river water supplies from reservoirs to the Calder, Colne, Holme, Ribble and Wharfe.

Then the public health director for West Yorkshire health authority warned that the implication of the cuts in water supply were horrendous, and an outbreak of dysentery was becoming a real possibility.

Eventually the weather did show some clemency. A threat of 24-hour rota cuts to 600,000 customers in West Yorkshire was lifted as heavy rain and snow started to fall.

But it was only a temporary measure. The cuts have been suspended until the New Year, and the company faces a public inquiry in February into its handling of the crisis. As Sir Gordon contemplates retirement, he may conclude that for troubled businessmen it never rains, but it pours.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
News
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower