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Minister in firing line over Red Sky storm

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 06/07/2011

Outspoken Stormont minister Nelson McCausland has again come under fire after intervening in a long-running dispute between the Housing Executive and one of its main repair contractors.

The row follows a decision by Mr McCausland to step in and ask the Housing Executive not to suspend its multi-million pound contract with east Belfast firm Red Sky.

The move has been branded "incomprehensible" in a briefing document circulated to board members at a meeting yesterday and seen by this newspaper.

A letter has now been sent by the Housing Executive to Mr McCausland detailing its response to his requests for a U-turn on the contract's withdrawal.

A spokesman for the Housing Executive last night declined to comment on the decision.

The controversy was sparked in April following a decision by the Housing Executive to end its £8m contract with Red Sky.

It came after an investigation into the company's work practices uncovered claims of significant over-charging and poor performance - allegations which Red Sky denies.

The company - which has since gone into administration - was given three months' notice, which is due to expire next week.

Mr McCausland has since launched a wider investigation into the management of maintenance contracts at the Housing Executive.

He said: "I'm determined that we will get to the bottom of this, that we'll not be fobbed off with a partial approach."

His intervention has been criticised by the Housing Executive and by Alex Attwood, the former Social Development Minister.

Last night Mr Attwood waded into the row, saying: "It is not an answer in terms of public confidence in public procurement, or in terms of public monies, that the response to concerns about the behaviour of other contractors is to reinstate the one contractor where there is a lot of evidence of overcharging and bad performance."

The Housing Executive ended its contract with Red Sky in April. Shortly afterwards the firm went into administration. Nelson McCausland has asked the Executive to reinstate the company. A meeting was held by Housing Executive board members yesterday about the minister's request, although their decision has not yet been announced.

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