Prescott announces new water regulator

Metropolitan Police receiver Philip Fletcher will be the new director general of Ofwat, the deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has announced.

The decision comes after lengthy deliberations by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, and was announced in the form of an answer to a Parliamentary Question from Helen Brinton MP.

“Sir Ian Byatt steps down on 31 July 2000, after eleven years of distinguished service as Director General of Water Services, the head of Ofwat, explained Prescott. “Following an open competition, and after consultation with the First Secretary of the National Assembly for Wales, I am pleased to announce I intend to appoint Philip Fletcher as the new Director General with effect from 1 August 2000.”

The post of Director General of Water Services is a statutory appointment by the Secretary of State for Environment, Transport and the Regions, under the Water Industry Act 1991. Since devolution, the Secretary of State must also consult the National Assembly for Wales before making an appointment, which may explain why the announcement was not made until a month before Byatt’s departure.

Byatt, the current director general, was first appointed on 1 August 1989, and his current term of office ends on 31 July 2000.

Philip Fletcher’s current position is Receiver for the Metropolitan Police, which carries statutory responsibility for the Metropolitan Police Fund. As Receiver, he is the procurement authority for the Metropolitan Police, which has a gross budget of around £2 billion a year.

Despite the recent Metropolitan Police pedigree, which has puzzled some observers, Fletcher has a similarly civil service background to his predecessor. Before taking up his current appointment in 1996, he was a grade 2 civil servant (deputy secretary) in the then Department of the Environment (DoE) – grade 1 (secretary) being the highest possible appointment. His most recent posts there included the leadership of the Cities and Countryside Group and chief executive of PSA Services – the Property Services Agency.

Before that, 54 year old Fletcher was – probably critical to his current appointment – director of central finance in the DoE and director of planning and development control. From university he had joined the then Ministry of Public Building and Works, which merged with the DoE in 1970. His education also demonstrates a classic civil service pedigree – he attended Marlborough College and Trinity College Oxford, where he read history. He is married with one daughter.

The appointment is for five years, and carries a salary of £120,000 – relatively modest in regulatory terms. Because of his lack of regulatory experience, despite his extensive financial expertise observers expect that he will require some time to accustom himself to his new role.

William de Broe utilities analyst Nigel Hawkins told edie: “It is clear it is far less likely than previously that a quick decision will be made on mutuality. To rewrite the rules in the first few weeks of his tenure in office would be a Herculean task.”

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