Ex-Welsh Assembly chief to probe NI misconduct claims

An investigation into the alleged misconduct of a senior civil servant in the North will be carried out by a retired leading official in the Welsh Assembly, it was announced today.

Jon Shortridge, the former permanent secretary of the Cardiff administration, will examine the events that led to the suspension of Paul Priestly from the Department of Regional Development last month.

The action against Mr Priestly came after claims he drafted a letter of complaint to a powerful Stormont scrutiny committee that was sent by one of a team of independent investigators probing the business of Northern Ireland Water (NIW).

Four NIW board members were sacked in March after the investigation team found that £28.5m (€34.3m) in contracts were issued without the work being properly tendered.

The incident that prompted Mr Priestly’s suspension related to later exchanges between one of the investigators and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which was also investigating the NIW affair.

Phoenix Gas chief executive Peter Dixon was unhappy with the tone and direction of some of the questions he faced from PAC members in July and wrote a letter of complaint.

While that letter was later withdrawn, it has emerged that Mr Priestly had originally offered Mr Dixon advice on the form the letter should take.

The head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, Bruce Robinson, who suspended Mr Priestly, said Mr Shortridge cannot start work immediately due to other commitments but will begin his investigation in October, and should be finished by the end of that month.

The 63-year-old father of two held the top post in Cardiff from 1999 to 2008.

He is currently chair of the Audit Panel of Cardiff County Council and a council member of Cardiff University.

Mr Robinson outlined Mr Shortridge's terms of reference: “The report will include your comment on whether you believe there may have been any misconduct, including breaches of relevant standards of conduct, terms and conditions of appointment, and in Mr Priestly’s case, his personal responsibilities as Accounting Officer and Head of Department,” he said.


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