HeadLine: THE WATER’S LOVELY
Daily Record, 17/12/1997, p4
by Shaun Milne
Fatcat Ernest Chambers sickened his suffering customers yesterday – by bragging about the lovely water in his holiday paradise.
The chief executive of crisis-hit West of Scotland Water raved over the “wonderful aquatic environment” in the Maldive Islands.
Families cut off by Scotland’s worst water fiasco were outraged.
One furious mum said: “Chambers should get the boot for this.”
Chambers – salary £101,000 – spoke after finally returning from the £1500- a-fortnight Fun Island resort in the Indian Ocean.
He had refused to come home early, even though a diesel spill last Tuesday crippled his organisation and left 60,000 people near Glasgow without water.
Thousands of families are still having to queue for supplies in freezing cold.
Schools and businesses remain closed, and officials can’t say how long the crisis will go on.
But as the Government launched a probe, tanned Chambers insisted he’d done nothing wrong.
Asked how he’d enjoyed his break, he said: “When you look at the situation here, my main memory is of the lovely aquatic surroundings.
“It is an unspoilt environment, quite beautiful.”
Chambers claimed it was better for him to keep up with the chaos in Glasgow by phone.
He added: “There is no way anyone can be available all the time.
“The operations director and finance director shadow me in the executive role.
“I have full confidence in their abilities, and I respect their judgment and the way it was exercised.”
West of Scotland Water have been slammed for waiting hours before warning the public of the spill, and for telling hundreds of customers their water was safe when it wasn’t.
In the Commons yesterday, Labour MP Norman Godman branded quango staff “a bunch of useless incompetents” for not having a contingency plan to deal with the crisis.
Godman claimed Scotland’s other two water boards were much better prepared for emergencies.
But Chambers praised his staff, saying: “When the enormity of what has happened comes out, people may have a different view.
“Restoring supplies has been a huge exercise. Staff have been working flat out.”
His words only made cut-off customers more angry.
Home help Kate Allan, 49, of Milngavie, said: “He should get the boot for what he said. In fact, he should be sacked over all of this.
“We’ve been without water for days, and now we’re being told it may not even be right for Christmas.
“Chambers should hang his head in shame, or come down and explain to people himself what is going on.”
Kate said her son Terry, 28, had lost a week’s wages through illness after drinking contaminated water.
Stephanie Findlay, 21, of Faifley, Clydebank, said: “It’s OK for Chambers to go swanking off on holiday while we’re left here.
“But how stupid can he be, telling us how good a time he had?
“We don’t care what he did. We want to know what he’s GOING to do.”
Chambers insisted he felt sorry for customers, adding: “We’re determined to have supplies restored to allow them to continue Christmas preparations.”
Around 5000 households are still without water. They will be told individually when their supplies are safe.
Chambers and his fellow-bosses will have to explain themselves to an inquiry set up by Scots Secretary Donald Dewar.
Water expert Robert Fraser has until March to find out what went wrong.
Dewar told MPs that West of Scotland Water chairman John Jameson could be booted if Fraser’s report proves damning.
He said: “I have spoken to the chief executive and chairman of West of Scotland Water today.
“I shall not make judg-ments before I see the report, but if further action is required I shall not hesitate to take it.”
Dewar spoke as he announced a shake-up of Scotland’s water, designed to get more elected councillors on to water boards.
The £50,000 a year chairmen of the East and North boards are to be replaced, with the new men earning just half that amount.
Jameson stays in post – for the moment at least.