Belfast Telegraph

MOT chief suspended: Official probed over handling of £57m test centres revamp

By Liam Clarke

A senior civil servant has been suspended after questions were raised about the management of a £57m contract to re-equip MOT centres across the province, it can be revealed.

Yesterday it was announced that staff have been informed that the chief executive of the Driver and Vehicle Agency, Stanley Duncan, has been suspended pending the outcome of disciplinary proceedings.

A Department of the Environment spokesman said: "This action has been taken to facilitate disciplinary proceedings. It does not presume any specific outcome to the process."

It is understood the step was taken after concerns were raised about the MOT contract, which was signed in 2001 as Public Finance Initiative partnership with the German MAHA consortium and the locally-based Rotary Group.

In a statement issued by Mr Duncan in 2003, the initiative was billed as providing "state-of-the-art computerised vehicle testing technology".

Angela Smith, the then direct rule minister, said that computerised vehicle testing would put Northern Ireland "at the forefront of vehicle testing".

The aim was to reduce costs, speed up waiting times for vehicle tests and allay fears of error by human testers.

However, the system has consistently failed to impress with longer than estimated waiting and test times and increasing costs. Financial controls were were criticised as insufficiently robust.

Such criticisms were aired publicly in a Northern Ireland Audit Office report to the House of Commons in 2006 and a Stormont Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report in 2009.

In 2009 the DoE accepted 10 critical recommendations from the PAC. It conceded that it was unable to test for vehicle emissions to EU standards. It admitted that it had failed to meet targets and that this had resulted in increased costs to the public.

The DoE told the PAC that "this PFI contract was one of the first to be put in place at a time therefore when much of the good practice guidance that has subsequently been developed was not available".

Alex Attwood, the Environment Minister, said yesterday: "I have been briefed by my permanent secretary about the matters that have led to these disciplinary proceedings. I believe the action announced by the department today is appropriate and proportionate and will facilitate early conclusions to be reached and decisions to be made."

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