Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Inquiry into company as financial woes arise

A series of complaints were made against the debt-ridden Northern Ireland Events company which the Executive is winding up, the Assembly heard yesterday.

A full inquiry into how the government-funded body ran up a deficit of around half its total budget - as first revealed in the Belfast Telegraph - is being ordered.

But, quizzed by MLAs yesterday, Arts and Culture Minister Edwin Poots conceded that "considerable uncertainty" about precise details of the company's financial affairs remain.

Pledging his independent review would provide "full scrutiny" of the circumstances leading to the deficit, the DUP Minister said complaints had included:

> Management attitude to staff;

> Financial propriety; and

> A lack of equity in dealing with funders.

Responding to a question from his party colleague Nelson McCausland, Mr Poots said there had been five complaints which included former employees and those involved in organising the events.

" Complaints were also received about the specific actions of the former chief executive and a further complaint was in respect of an alleged irregular payment and these have been subject to an ongoing investigation," he said.

A further allegation about internal payments was being considered, MLAs were told.

Sinn Fein MLA John O'Dowd, chairman of Stormont's Public Accounts Committee, said he was conscious of sensitive legal and financial issues involved but wanted to know why an internal audit failed to highlight the financial difficulties.

"There's no excuse for arm's-length bodies to find themselves in this position. There is a wealth of information available," he said.

Mr Poots added, however: "Not all relevant facts are yet available and it would be prudent to suspend judgment until the facts are available."

On the basis of information so far it would appear most of the deficit arose from significant overspend against the budget for a number of events and the Company committing themselves to expenditure on the basis of assumed corporative sponsorship which failed to materialise.

"At this stage there is considerable uncertainty as to the precise details of the company's financial affairs, therefore the information currently available needs to be treated with caution," Mr Poots went on.

Mr Poots told SDLP leader Mark Durkan, however, he could not be specific about a date when all the facts would be available.

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