Water watchdog faces jobs inquiry

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IAN BYATT, head of the regulatory body for the water industry, appointed a school friend and the wife of former Civil Service colleague to well-paid part-time posts.

Mr Byatt, director-general of the Office of Water Services, (Ofwat), is expected to be questioned by MPs about the appoinments when he appears before the Environment Select Committee this morning. Yesterday Ofwat, the privatised water industry's powerful economic regulator, denied there had been any impropriety.

The Yorkshire Post said several of Mr Byatt's choices of chairman at Ofwat's 10 regional customer services committee were questionable. The committees represent water consumers in each of the regions covered by the 10 large water companies of England and Wales. The chairmen are paid between pounds 10,000 to pounds 15,000 for five to eight days' work a month.

Among the six appointments highlighted in the newspaper's investigation yesterday were:

Jim Gardiner, chair of the Northumbrian committee. He was a close friend of Mr Byatt at Kirkham Grammer School in Lancashire.

Elizabeth Monck, chair of the Thames committee. Nicholas Monck, her husband, is the permanent secretary at the Department of Employment and was a senior civil servant at the Treasury when Mr Byatt was its chief economic adviser.

David Edwards, chair of the Eastern committee until he retired in February. He is a director of the construction firm John Laing, which says it is working on contracts worth pounds 10m for Anglian Water, the water company that covers the same region as the eastern committee.

Mr Byatt's recent dismissal of Diana Scott, chair of the Yorkshire committee, has also been attacked by some MPs. Mrs Scott says she lost the job because she opposed the spread of water meters as a method of charging - something Mr Byatt favours.