Northern Ireland’s public spending watchdog may launch an investigation into the spiralling cost of Civil Service overtime.
The Audit Office confirmed it has been asked to look at vast bills run up by the 12 Stormont departments, days after the issue was highlighted by the Belfast Telegraph.
An investigation by this newspaper disclosed how staff were handed an extra £13m after working an astonishing 786,000 additional hours in the last year.
Most departments saw expenditure on overtime rise from the previous year, despite increasing pressure to slash costs.
After expressing concern about the bill, Ulster Unionist MLA Michael Copeland has referred the matter to the Audit Office.
Yesterday a spokeswoman for the body said it was considering his request for an investigation.
“Mr Copeland has been in touch with us and the matter is currently under consideration,” she said.
Mr Copeland, who sits on the Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee, said he hoped an investigation could determine if the money was properly used.
“I spend every day with citizens who are finding the pressures on the public purse being thrown at them on all occasions. Everyone in times like these is required to tighten their financial belt, and government bodies should not be exempt,” he said.
In the 12 months to April, civil servants worked 786,303 hours of overtime, costing a total of £12,920,421 in extra payments.
That has risen from 2010/11, when civil servants worked 709,636 extra hours, costing a combined £10,663,738.
The expenditure was obtained by this newspaper following freedom of information requests.
The highest bill was run up by the Department for Social Development, which spent £3.75m on additional shifts.
That figure was up 60% on the 2010/11 spend of £2.3m. Overtime rose from 170,233 hours during 2010/11 to 240,558 last year.
Three other departments — regional development, finance and personnel, and agriculture — also shelled out over £1m on staff overtime.
Only two departments recorded a drop in expenditure — the Department of Environment and Department of Health.