Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Nelson McCausland ordered me to alter contract talks memo: civil servant

Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland ordered a senior civil servant to change his notes, Stormont committee told
Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland ordered a senior civil servant to change his notes, Stormont committee told

Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland ordered a senior civil servant to change his notes about a business meeting concerning Housing Executive contracts, a Stormont committee has heard.

The changes obscured the fact that the DUP minister had met with Turkington Holdings – a company whose owner, Trevor Turkington, has publicly supported the party.

Instead the note, which was sent to Stormont's social development committee, stated that the meeting in April 2012 was with the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF), a professional body.

Although Turkington Holdings is a member of the federation, it never claimed to represent it.

Yesterday, Stormont's social development committee heard direct evidence from Michael Sands, a senior civil servant in the Housing Division.

Mr Sands had drafted the memo in question and then changed it at the minister's request. It referred to a meeting Mr McCausland and other officials had with Turkington Holdings in April 2012 at which the company suggested changes in the way double glazing was installed. Mr McCausland has stated that this produced savings of £15.1m.

Mr Sands told the committee that Turkington Holdings did not represent the GGF and did not mislead anybody about its status. "It was Turkingtons all the way," he said.

The DUP's relationship with Turkington Holdings and Red Sky, a construction company, were examined in a BBC Spotlight documentary on July 4.

Afterwards, Alex Maskey, chairman of the Department for Social Development (DSD) scrutiny committee, announced a probe, which is ongoing, and asked for details of the April 2012 meeting.

Mr Sands said he had drafted a reply in which Mr McCausland would have stated that "along with the chief executive of the Housing Executive, I met with Turkington Holdings to discuss double glazing".

However, Mr Sands then received an email from Fiona Lundy, who works in Mr McCausland's office, saying the minister wanted the draft changed to omit all reference to Turkington Holdings, and say that the meeting was with the GGF as well as Fusion 21, a procurement body that was not present.

"I can only state what I actually prepared, and I prepared that draft based upon one meeting with Turkingtons. It was subsequently changed at the request of the minister to take out the reference to Turkington Holdings Ltd and to put in representatives of the Glass and Glazing Federation and Fusion 21," Mr Sands said.

Mr Sands' account of the meeting was supported by Jim McKeag of Turkington Holdings as well as John McPeake, the head of the Housing Executive, who attended the meeting.

Last night Jim Allister, the TUV leader, called for Mr McCausland to explain "why he thought it necessary to distort the situation". Mr Allister said "at the opening of the meeting I declared that I had represented Turkington Holdings when practising law on some planning matters".

"I also thought it important to declare that when I ran for election to the European Parliament in 2004, Turkingtons provided vans to the DUP for use in the campaign. It is important that any other members of the committee who have links to Turkingtons, or indeed parties represented on the committee, are upfront about any connections which may exist in order to maximise public confidence in the DSD inquiry," he added.

BACKGROUND

On July 3, a BBC Spotlight programme alleged there had been political interference in the running of the Housing Executive and the awarding of contracts. Nelson McCausland, the Social Development (DSD) Minister, denied the allegations. "I can assure you categorically that I have never sought to influence any contracts," he said. The DSD committee launched an inquiry and asked Mr McCausland for details of a number of meetings, including one in April of last year, at which issues relating to glazing contracts were discussed.

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