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UUP's Nesbitt slams 'dunces' of First Ministers' Office as costs spiral by 21%

By Noel McAdam

Published 15/01/2016

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt

Officials from the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) have been branded "dunces" over soaring costs in their department.

The attack came from UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, who chairs the OFMDFM committee that monitors First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Mr Nesbitt spoke as committee members discussed the revamp of Stormont departments, which will be reduced from 12 to nine after the next Assembly election.

Mr Nesbitt said that on administrative savings, the SDLP's Mark H Durkan's Department of the Environment "gets the gold star" for a 66.34% cut. But he added that OFMDFM were "the dunces" with a 21.26% leap between 2012/13 and 2015/16.

However, OFMDFM director of finance Dr Mark Browne countered that the department had taken on "a number of significant additional functions" in that period.

But Mr Nesbitt said he wanted to know why £12.2m of the £15m allocated to the anti-poverty Social Investment Fund had been reallocated to other departments in the past year. "Ten months after the Social Investment Fund was due to have finished and to have spent £80m on alleviating poverty in the process, the actual spend is only £4m," the UUP leader added.

"This is a damning indictment on the OFMDFM's administration of the Social Investment Fund, and the news that they can't give money away will be greeted with incredulity by hard-pressed communities and voluntary groups across Northern Ireland.

"The story of the Social Investment Fund has been a study in how not to do government.

"It has been a litany of inefficiency, indecision and incompetency, and it highlights in the starkest possible terms the dysfunctional nature of this administration."

Dr Browne argued that Social Investment Fund projects were in the process of being established, explaining that while the fund had "taken time", it was now "beginning to deliver projects on the ground".

OFMDFM, which will be renamed the Executive Office after the next election, will be retaining "both delivery and policy responsibility for the Social Investment Fund, racial equality, united communities and good relations", Dr Browne added.

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