Conflict of interest utility man quits

Harry McCracken
Harry McCracken

A leading businessman has left the board of the Utility Regulator over two conflicts of interest — just a year after being appointed by a Stormont minister.

On Thursday, the News Letter reported that Harry McCracken, a former managing director of Northern Ireland Electricity, was still a member of the regulator’s board five months after the quango’s deadline for him to resolve the conflicts of interest.

Mr McCracken is chairman of Belfast firm Simple Power, which installs wind turbines, and is also chairman of Winder Power – a company run by the controversial former Northern Ireland Water chairman Laurence MacKenzie – which does work for Northern Ireland Electricity. Nine months ago the chairman of the Utility Regulator, Bill Emery, said that he set a “deadline” of March 2014 for Mr McCracken — who almost a year ago was appointed by finance minister Simon Hamilton — to divest himself of the conflicts of interest.

In a December 2013 letter to SDLP MLA John Dallat, who raised concerns about the appointment, Dr Emery said: “I have set a deadline for the divestment by March 2014 ... As an interim measure, Mr McCracken will not be participating in any board discussions on electricity matters nor will he receive papers in respect of same.”

However, Mr McCracken retained his positions at the power companies and his seat on the board until this week.

Yesterday it emerged that Mr McCracken had tendered his resignation from the board on Thursday. When asked about his position, the regulator said: “Mr McCracken indicated to the chairman earlier in the year that he would step down from the Utility Regulator board at the end of August after having completed a year’s service.

“During his time on the Utility Regulator board he has made a significant contribution to non-electricity related workstreams.

“In particular, his chairmanship of the evaluation panel overseeing the competitive licence application for the Gas to the West process has been invaluable, involving an additional time commitment over and above scheduled board meetings.”

There was no suggestion that Mr McCracken had done anything wrong and earlier this week he told the News Letter that he had declared the conflicts of interest from the start so questions about his suitability for the post were for those who appointed him.