Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

Housing Executive 'open to fraud'

Management of repair contracts left the Housing Executive open to big risks of fraud and impropriety, according to a Stormont report

The "abjectly poor" management of multimillion-pound repair contracts for the Housing Executive left the organisation open to significant risk of fraud and impropriety for many years, a damning Stormont report has found.

Some senior managers even appeared to actively undermine controls established within the public body to monitor the work of outside contractors and ensure they delivered cost effective services, according to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) probe.

Committee members examined how the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) handled its £50 million-a-year deals with businesses to carry out maintenance work on its stock of 90,000 houses.

Chairwoman of the PAC Michaela Boyle said: "We know that most Housing Executive staff overseeing those businesses contracted to respond to maintenance needs are diligent and hard working.

"However, we found that the management and oversight of this service has been abjectly poor - so poor that it calls into question the capability and competence of management within the Housing Executive over many years, particularly at a senior level.

"We would even go so far as to say that it would appear that some members of senior management actively undermined the systems of control that had been put in place."

The committee warned that management failings at NIHE extended beyond the remit of response maintenance contracts, to planned maintenance contracts and land deals.

"We are particularly concerned that their Housing and Regeneration Division, which looks after maintenance and land purchases, had been out of control for many years," said Ms Boyle.

The PAC assessment comes six months after the Northern Ireland Audit Office published a similarly critical assessment of management performance at the NIHE.

Problems involved with maintenance contracts were highlighted in 2011 when the NIHE cancelled the £7 million-a-year deal with the Red Sky construction company after concerns were raised about the standard of service being provided.

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