Turmoil as two more bosses go at water company

MID Kent Water has lost two more bosses in the turmoil engulfing its backers.

Robert Atwood, chief executive of Swan Group, the Snodland-based utility's parent company, has been forced to quit. He was at Mid Kent for 12 years.

His abrupt departure comes a few months after the equally surprise move by his predecessor Keith Tozzi, thwarting his dream of creating a single water utility for Kent and Medway.

Brian Clifford, the corporate affairs director -- formerly with the BBC -- has also gone after six years. His communications strategy was widely credited with helping to fend off a hostile French takeover bid in the 1990s.

Swan, effectively an investment vehicle created by WestLB bank to buy Mid Kent Holdings, has brought in Neil McDougall, a 20 per cent stakeholder in Swan, to become the group's executive chairman.

Gordon Maxwell, former managing director of Thames Water, is executive chairman of Mid Kent.

Mid Kent, whose water quality has just reached a new high, according to the Drinking Water Inspectorate, has prided itself on good customer service, high staff morale and local focus. But it is become a pawn in an international business power game.

WestLB, the German bank, ran into a series of financial problems at its controversial UK principal finance unit run by Robin Saunders.

A Mid Kent source said: "Mid Kent Water is like a ping-pong ball in the middle of the Robin Saunders West LB situation."

Morale at the Snodland headquarters is said to be low as staff cope with these changes at the top.

"They don't know whether they are coming or going," a source said. "But through all the turmoil, they have continued to maintain their service to customers."

A few months ago, Swan put Mid Kent up for sale to clear the way for a Swan bid for Anglian Water Group, but the AWG deal fell through. An Australian bank Macquarie was initially interested in MKW but did not proceed.

Ms Saunders has been barred from doing any new deals while WestLB decides what to do with her unit, she has been allowed to restructure existing investments.

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