Belfast Telegraph

Row over £20k annual bill to fly in and put up trio of Housing Executive bosses

BY NOEL MCADAM

DUP minister Nelson McCausland has defended appointing three Housing Executive bosses from Britain – running up a monthly bill of £1,600.

But hardline unionist MLA Jim Allister has branded the move as "incongruous", even ignoring the costs.

The senior members of the Executive board are being flown in from Britain and the total bill for transport and hotels amounts to just under £20,000 a year.

The three are chairman Donald Hoodless, vice-chairman Peter Roberts – who have been in office for almost a year – and Greg Lomax, who was appointed in April, all by Social Development Minister Mr McCausland.

Traditional Unionist Voice leader Mr Allister said: "It is one thing to learn from best practice from elsewhere, but there is something distinctly incongruous about appointing as many as three members from outside Northern Ireland to the Board of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, not to mention the increased cost on the taxpayer of flying them in and providing hotels."

But a statement on behalf of Mr McCausland said: "All appointments are made on merit and in accordance with the Commissioner for Public Appointments for Northern Ireland's Code of Practice."

The criticism came amid claims that £18m said to have been overpaid to Northern Ireland contractors may prove wide of the mark.

Senior Stormont sources have signalled the actual total is likely to be closer to £10m – still regarded as a serious scandal, but significantly less than MLAs were told.

The disclosure came as consultants appointed to examine the alleged overpayment to four firms also named in the Assembly yesterday updated the board – behind closed doors.

Consultants Campbell Tickell, which specialises in housing, has been examining how the overpayments arose and what actions are being taken to recover the overpayments.

BACKGROUND

The three senior members of the Housing Executive board flown in from the UK every month are:

* Chairman Donald Hoodless: a former chief executive of Circle 33 Housing Trust and Notting Hill Housing Trust.

* Vice-chairman Peter Roberts: a Visiting Professor at the University of Ulster and Professor Emeritus at the University of Leeds who has a vast array of housing and regeneration experience.

* Greg Lomax: chairman of Aldwyck Housing Association providing supported housing and care services in south east and east of England.

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