herald

Sunday 11 December 2016

Irish Water lost €138m last year and borrowed €450m so far in 2015

business

IRISH Water recorded losses of €138m last year after taking control of the water network from 31 local authorities.

It has also borrowed €450m so far in 2015, bringing total borrowings to €1.3bn.

Of this, €450m has been sourced from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, formerly the National Pensions Reserve Fund, to fund the water metering programme, and €50m from the Department of Finance.

The remainder of the cash has been sourced from eight commercial banks.

But Ervia chief executive Michael McNicholas, who has overall responsibility for Irish Water and this week signalled it may not exist after the General Election, said the extent of its borrowings reflected the market's confidence in the utility.

This is despite just less than half of its domestic customers paying their bills.

The company collected €30.5m in charges for the first quarter of the year, far short of the €66.8m which was due.

"We're set up to borrow to invest in the utility," he said.

"They [banks] are saying they're interested in lending money to Irish Water. They totally understand we're a start-up. They see we've made incredible progress. They see us as a sensible place to put shareholder capital.

"Right now they're not raising that [low collection rates] as an issue. Of course we have to get that up.

"Over time, as we engage with our customers, they [payment rates] will improve. You wouldn't look at a billing cycling until you have a full-year billing.

"We think it's a good start after the first quarter."

He refused to speculate on what would be considered an acceptable payment rate, but said that between 85pc and 90pc of commercial customers paid their bills.

He also said it would take between seven and 10 years for the company to become a high-performing utility.

The biggest challenge was not for Irish Water, but for the country, he said.

"We have failed substantially to invest. The biggest challenge is for Ireland. A national utility is the right way to fix it. We have to build confidence and trust.

"It's a huge thing to set up a new utility."

confidence

Irish Water is part of the Ervia Group, and the water company generated revenues of €687m last year. While they will be higher for 2015, as domestic billing has been introduced, they will most likely be off target due to lower than expected payment rates.

In a statement, it apologised for issues which "impacted customer confidence", and said it would deliver "on behalf of the people of Ireland".

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