Scottish water regulator chief resigns following ‘unacceptable’ financial practices

Scottish water regulator chief resigns following 'unacceptable' financial practices

Harvard University

The Scottish water regulator’s chief, Alan Sutherland, has resigned following a scathing report by Audit Scotland, which highlighted “unacceptable” financial practices at the Water Industry Commission for Scotland (WICS).

The report revealed unauthorised spending, including £77,350 for a Harvard Business School course for chief operating officer Michelle Ashford, and £2,600 on Christmas gift vouchers for staff, surpassing the £75 limit set by the Scottish Public Finance Manual.

Audit Scotland criticised WICS for its failure to seek necessary government approval for significant expenditures, pointing out that services above £20,000, not awarded through competitive tender, require approval. The commission also faced scrutiny for improper expense claims, with instances of exceeding approved limits, such as a dinner costing over £200 per head, and purchasing alcohol, which is not explicitly prohibited by WICS’ policies.

Stephen Boyle, auditor general for Scotland, said: “Value for money should always be central to public bodies’ spending decisions. But these findings highlight unacceptable behaviour by senior Commission officials in the use of public funds.

“I expect appropriate action to be taken to address the issues reported by the auditor.”

The report highlighted widespread issues with expense claims lacking itemized receipts, including those by Mr Sutherland, who also attracted attention earlier for receiving over £14,000 for unused leave.

The Scottish Government has demanded immediate action from WICS to address these issues and enforce a culture of responsible spending. The commission, employing 26 staff, reported an expenditure of £4.036 million in 2022/23, 67% of which was staff-related. The Scottish Government’s response includes the immediate stepping down of Mr  Sutherland and a commitment to implementing the auditor’s recommendations.

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