Belfast Telegraph

Under fire housing minister Nelson McCausland accused of 'wriggling'

BY NOEL MCADAM

Nelson McCausland is facing growing pressure to apologise after it was confirmed that alleged fraud involving property maintenance contractors may have amounted to almost half the amount he told the Assembly.

An independent report published yesterday estimated the total may be as low as £9.5m – nearly half the figure announced by the Social Development minister.

Consultants Campbell Tickell said the prime cause of the overcharging was poor planning, preparation, implementation and controls by the board of the Housing Executive

It has also emerged, however, that four firms 'named and shamed' by the minister – PK Murphy, Bann, Mascott and Dixons – may also be owed cash. Mr McCausland said the next stage is to agree the amount the contractors may have to pay back.

But Jim Allister, a member of the committee which monitors the minister, said: "Campbell Tickell now speculates an overspend in a range of £9m to £13m, (but) the minister does not point out that events have moved on and the contractors in fact being owed money. Thus, the reference to contractors agreeing to pay back money is disingenuous."

And Ulster Unionist committee member Michael Copeland added: "The more he wriggles, the more the minister sinks."

The report also revealed, meanwhile, that reports on scheme inspections were altered before they were submitted to a Housing Executive audit committee.

The removal of the words were "a significant error of judgement" which meant the audit committee "could not exercise the necessary oversight," it concluded.

Housing Executive chairman Donald Hoodless admitted the reputation of the organisation had been damaged.

'£13m overcharge' for housing body 

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