Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Ministers 'must probe' contract row

Alex Attwood
Alex Attwood

An escalating row between the Social Development Minister and the Housing Executive must be examined by his ministerial colleagues, his predecessor has insisted.

Alex Attwood, who is now Environment Minister, said the dispute involving Nelson McCausland and NIHE over the termination of Belfast repair company Red Sky's £8 million a year maintenance contract had to be scrutinised by the Stormont Executive.

The SDLP MLA, who has asked for the issue to be raised at this week's ministerial meeting, made his comments after the Housing Executive sent a letter to Mr McCausland expressing concern over his request for it to extend Red Sky's contract.

The deal was terminated by the NIHE earlier this year amid allegations the firm, which has since gone into administration, was overcharging for work it was completing on executive properties. Red Sky has denied those claims.

But only two months after replacing Mr Attwood in the post, the DUP's Mr McCausland asked the Housing Executive to reinstate the company while a new system for awarding contracts was set up.

The minister has claimed the problem of overcharging is more widespread within the executive and not limited to one contractor. He said a full "forensic investigation" of the issue had to be undertaken and asked for Red Sky's work to be extended in the meantime.

He has rejected claims his decision was influenced by DUP colleagues lobbying on behalf of Red Sky and its 450-strong workforce.

The board of NIHE held an emergency meeting to discuss Mr McCausland's request today and afterwards sent a letter to the minister raising concerns.

Mr Attwood said the issue now had to be examined by the full Stormont Executive.

"I am taken aback that less than two months after becoming DSD minister, the new minister has instructed that the Red Sky contract is reinstated and extended," he added.

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