Belfast Telegraph

Firms 'shamed' in row over alleged £18m overpayments win Housing Executive contracts

BY NOEL MCADAM

Three firms 'named and shamed' by a DUP minister over alleged overpayments of £18m have been awarded new contracts to double-glaze Housing Executive homes.

The long-delayed decision on the contracts follows revelations that four firms identified by Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland in relation to alleged overpayments may in fact be owed money from the public purse.

Now Mr McCausland has been warned he has "serious questions to answer" after naming the companies in the Assembly – and should make another statement to the Assembly.

The warning came from Ulster Unionist MLA Michael Copeland as it was confirmed the Housing Executive chairman Donald Hoodless is to give evidence to a Stormont committee on the claims next week.

In an Assembly answer, Mr McCausland confirmed that three of the four firms – Bann Ltd, Dixons Contractors and PK Murphy Construction – last week won 'contract lots' from the Housing Executive board which discussed the controversy behind closed doors. The fourth firm identified back in June was Mascott.

Mr Copeland, a member of the Social Development committee said: "I have recently been very reliably informed that the allegations appear to have been grossly inaccurate.

"The minister must, as a matter of absolute urgency, make a statement to the Assembly.

"It was not that long ago that significant problems in the management of response maintenance contracts carried out by Red Sky came to the fore."

Mr McCausland said the UUP Assembly member was well aware that Mr Hoodless is to give a briefing to the committee on November 21 and it would be "inappropriate" to comment beforehand.

"I understand details on the matter will be presented," said Mr McCausland.

"I am sure Mr Copeland would agree that where public money is concerned, any overcharging should be properly investigated and where the amount strays into millions, as minister, it is incumbent on me to report such significant levels to Assembly colleagues."

An initial investigation involving the four companies identified in the Assembly by Housing Minister Nelson McCausland is believed to have indicated they might have been underpaid instead.

Traditional Unionist MLA Jim Allister asked Mr McCausland if he would apologise to the companies, and consider his position, if it turns out the firms are owed cash – but the minister refused to be drawn.

STORY SO FAR

Contractors allegedly overpaid by around £18m were named in the Assembly as PK Murphy, Bann, Mascott and Dixons – although they denied any wrongdoing. Now an initial probe by the Housing Executive is understood to have indicated the companies might instead be owed money. The claims involve a total of £172m worth of work carried out on 60,000 homes between January 2008 and the start of this year. Maintenance works included kitchen replacements, double glazing and external improvements.

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