THE appointment of Somerset’s new Lord Lieutenant has been overshadowed by controversy after a letter of complaint to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak from MP Ian Liddell-Grainger.
Mohammed Saddiq took over from Annie Maw, who has retired after nearly eight years in the role, and became the first Muslim to hold a Lieutenancy.
But, he earlier resigned from his job with Wessex Water following criticism from Mr Liddell-Grainger about the inappropriateness of somebody representing the monarch when they were a senior director of a company which had pumped ‘thousands of gallons of human filth’ into Somerset’s rivers.
Mr Saddiq stepped down from his water company position stating he wanted to concentrate on the new role representing King Charles in Somerset as his Lord Lieutenant.
However, Mr Liddell-Grainger, who represents West Somerset, then wrote to Mr Sunak saying Mr Saddiq’s selection raised ‘serious issues about the honesty of the process’.
Mr Liddell-Grainger said: “Mr Saddiq’s voluntary and charitable credentials may be considerable. But his professional career, most recently as executive director of operations at Wessex Water, should have stopped this appointment dead in its tracks.
“Wessex Water has an appalling record for dumping raw sewage into Somerset’s rivers. The company did it 14,000 times last year alone.
“Phosphate pollution has now halted many major housing projects and councils are spending millions tackling problems they did not cause.
“Last year, Mr Saddiq received £165,000 as a bonus on top of his handsome Wessex Water salary for ‘environmental performance’.
“His job presents an obvious conflict of interest and should have rung loud alarm bells throughout the appointments system, a system which operates in the Prime Minister’s name.
“Mr Saddiq has, at last, resigned his directorship of Wessex Water but only did so after I raised the probity of his selection in the House.
“My criticism of the appointment system remains.
“This system claims to ‘consult’ local MPs and leading councillors in advance.
“But the identity of this candidate was never shared with me or any of my Parliamentary colleagues.
“If it had been, it would have been vetoed early on.
“The system lacks transparency and requires improvement as a matter of urgency.
“Your pledge to govern with openness and integrity is very important to my constituents. Your influence upon this matter will be greatly welcomed.”
Taking up his new role, Mr Saddiq said: “These will be enormous shoes to fill. Annie has done an outstanding job during her time as Lord Lieutenant and must have visited every corner of Somerset.
“She has attacked the role with an energy and commitment which will be hard to match.
“But for me this is a tremendous honour and I will devote my time now to representing Somerset in the best way I can.
“I see this as an opportunity to give something back to a country which has given me so much.”
Mrs Maw said Mr Saddiq had been a ‘perfect choice’ for the role.
She said: “I know he will bring new skills to the job and boundless enthusiasm. We are lucky to have him representing Somerset.”
Wessex Water this week hit back at Mr Liddell-Grainger’s criticism with a statement expressing disappointment over ‘inaccurate comments’.
A spokesman said: “Wessex Water does not ‘dump raw sewage’, nor does it have an ‘appalling record’. Assessments by independent regulators show Wessex Water to be one of the best performers.
“Sewerage systems in the UK include overflows that operate automatically during periods of very heavy rain to prevent properties and roads from flooding.
“The overflows generally release fine screened, dilute storm sewage, with little impact on water quality.”
The spokesman also refuted Mr Liddell-Grainger’s claim that storm overflows operated on 14,000 occasions in Somerset last year.