Water CEO departs after ‘unacceptable’ spending audit

WICS chief executive Alan Sutherland

The head of the economic regulator of Scottish Water has left his job after Audit Scotland said it found “unacceptable use of public funds” by senior officials at the Water Industry Commission for Scotland (WICS).

The Scottish Government said WICS chief executive Alan Sutherland would be standing down with immediate effect.

WICS is the economic regulator of Scottish Water. Its job is to ensure long-term value and excellent levels of service for customers and communities.

Audit Scotland reported that in 2022-23 the WICS needed retrospective approval from the Scottish Government for around £80,000 of spending.

This spending included £77,350 for chief operating officer Michelle Ashford to attend a training course at Harvard Business School, and £2,600 on £100 Christmas gift vouchers for each member of staff.

WICS chief operating officer Michelle Ashford

“Expenses claims exceeding set rates were also found to have been submitted and approved without itemised receipts, including by the chief executive,” said Audit Scotland.

“One claim was for a dinner where the cost per head exceeded £200 per person. This, and other claims, included the purchase of alcohol.”

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.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government is clear that the failings identified in the auditor general’s report are completely unacceptable.

“WICS’ chief executive is stepping down with immediate effect and has tendered his resignation.

“WICS will now submit an action plan outlining how they will deliver on the auditor general’s recommendations and we will play our part in ensuring that all of the recommendations are implemented without exception.”