Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Brother of Arlene Foster's advisor benefits from botched energy scheme

By Ciaran Barnes

A DUP special advisor is facing calls to quit after the party revealed to Sunday Life that his farmer brother is benefiting from the disastrous Renewable Heat Initiative (RHI) which is set to cost local taxpayers £400m.

Andrew Crawford — who works for Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen — was Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster’s highly-paid special advisor when the ‘cash for ash’ incentive was launched.

After being doorstepped at his east Belfast home by Sunday Life on Friday he revealed his farmer brother James Crawford — who owns a £700,000 poultry business in Tyrone — is benefiting from the hopelessly flawed RHI scheme

Among Dr Crawford’s other startling admissions is that he does not have any “record” of issues concerning the failings of the heating disaster being raised with him.

This is despite a whistle-blower telling the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment (DETI) in 2013, 2014 and 2015 that the system was flawed and would cost the public millions.

The DUP said in its statement: “In the interests of transparency Dr Crawford has asked us to inform you that while his family farm is not in receipt of RHI, his brother is a director of a poultry business which successfully applied to the scheme.

“Dr Andrew Crawford was Special Advisor in the then Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment during the period 2011 to May 2015. Dr Crawford did not meet the whistleblower nor has he any record of these issues having been raised with him at that time.”

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt last night accused Dr Crawford of “failing in his duty” and urged him to resign.

He said: “As a highly-paid servant of the public Dr Crawford should have interrogated the policy, identified the flaw and moved to have it corrected. He clearly failed in his duty.

“On that basis, both the minister responsible, Arlene Foster, and the special advisor should consider their positions.”

When this newspaper spoke to Dr Crawford at his east Belfast apartment on Friday he refused to answer any questions about his role in overseeing RHI or how a relative was benefiting from the wasteful project.

There is no suggestion his brother did anything wrong in applying to the  RHI scheme. His firm DJC Poultry Ltd is based on the Modagh Road in Beragh, Tyrone and is currently valued as being worth £706,000 according to Companies House records.

Mike Nesbitt has pounced on Dr Crawford’s claim he had no record of RHI issues being raised with him saying that as special advisor to Mrs Foster both should have been aware of the major flaws in the scheme.

The Strangford MLA is now questioning whether the department was “out of control” while under the watch of Mrs Foster, who is now First Minister, and her advisor Dr Crawford. Mr Nesbitt said: “Andrew Crawford clearly supported his minister in the disastrous sequence of policy decisions that resulted in renewable heat being devolved from Westminster, in the GB model not being adopted, and in the local scheme being approved.

“As this was all policy, not ‘jots’ and ‘tittles’ as Arlene Foster tries to claim, we know where the buck, or the £400m, stops. The question now is, was the department out of control?”

The DUP also confirmed to Sunday Life that “none of the special advisors employed by our ministers are applicants to the scheme and for the avoidance of doubt are not benefiting in any way from this scheme”.

A party spokesman added that it is not “privy to the list of those who applied for and are in receipt of monies”, and “nor would it be appropriate for the DUP or any political party to have access to such information”.

The deeply flawed Renewable Heat Incentive was launched in 2012 to help Northern Ireland meet renewable energy targets. Business owners were encouraged to convert their heating systems to wood-burning boilers and were paid a government subsidy which was greater than the cost of fuel.

Not only were no financial control measures put in place, the rate of payment remained the same over 20 years, whereas in England payments reduce considerably over time.

Those taking part in the scheme soon realised that the more wood they burned the more cash they got from the Assembly. This resulted in some farmers blasting heat into empty barns, and one business having the radiators on constantly with the windows open during summer.

A whistle-blower spotted the serious RHI flaws and alerted DETI — which is now the Department for the Economy — in 2013. But her concerns were brushed aside, even after she contacted them again in 2014 and 2015.

The RHI was eventually scrapped last year, but only after 946 applications were approved of which 300 were said to have “issues” after inspection.

The total cost of the farce to the public purse is estimated to be around £400m, which is enough to pay for a new hospital in Omagh, the Belfast Interchange Project, Belfast Rapid Transport System, and converting the A26 at Antrim to a dual carriageway.

The whistle-blower who saw the failings in the RHI says “five minutes of research” would have alerted DETI officials to the flaws in the scheme. She also quickly realised there were “opportunities for fraud”, telling this to senior civil servants.

The whistle-blower explained she visited businesses who left the heating system on constantly because “the more they heated, the more money they made”.

“I would go into hotels, maybe care homes, and it would be 24 degrees outside, the heat’s still on and the windows are open. ”

In an interview from China, where she is visiting on Assembly business, First Minister Arlene Foster said she did “all that was appropriate in the circumstances”.

Referring to the whistle-blower, the DUP leader explained: “I referred it to a senior official and they took it forward and it has been acknowledged indeed by the permanent secretary that I did all that was appropriate in the circumstances.”

“As this was all policy, not ‘jots’ and ‘tittles’ as Arlene Foster tries to claim, we know where the buck, or the £400m, stops. The question now is, was the department out of control?”

The DUP also confirmed to Sunday Life that “none of the special advisors employed by our ministers are applicants to the scheme and for the avoidance of doubt are not benefiting in any way from this scheme”.

A party spokesman added that it is not “privy to the list of those who applied for and are in receipt of monies”, and “nor would it be appropriate for the DUP or any political party to have access to such information”.

The deeply flawed Renewable Heat Incentive was launched in 2012 to help Northern Ireland meet renewable energy targets. Business owners were encouraged to convert their heating systems to wood-burning boilers and were paid a government subsidy which was greater than the cost of fuel.

Not only were no financial control measures put in place, the rate of payment remained the same over 20 years, whereas in England payments reduce considerably over time.

Those taking part in the scheme soon realised that the more wood they burned the more cash they got from the Assembly. This resulted in some farmers blasting heat into empty barns, and one business having the radiators on constantly with the windows open during summer.

A whistle-blower spotted the serious RHI flaws and alerted DETI — which is now the Department for the Economy — in 2013. But her concerns were brushed aside, even after she contacted them again in 2014 and 2015.

The RHI was eventually scrapped last year, but only after 946 applications were approved of which 300 were said to have “issues” after inspection.

The total cost of the farce to the public purse is estimated to be around £400m, which is enough to pay for a new hospital in Omagh, the Belfast Interchange Project, Belfast Rapid Transport System, and converting the A26 at Antrim to a dual carriageway.

The whistle-blower who saw the failings in the RHI says “five minutes of research” would have alerted DETI officials to the flaws in the scheme. She also quickly realised there were “opportunities for fraud”, telling this to senior civil servants.

The whistle-blower explained she visited businesses who left the heating system on constantly because “the more they heated, the more money they made”.

“I would go into hotels, maybe care homes, and it would be 24 degrees outside, the heat’s still on and the windows are open. I went into an office one time, not that long ago, and they (the business) were tenants. It was really warm, they had the windows open. Basically the landlord was just heating all the time.”

In an interview from China, where she is visiting on Assembly business, First Minister Arlene Foster said she did “all that was appropriate in the circumstances”.

Referring to the whistle-blower, the DUP leader explained: “I referred it to a senior official and they took it forward and it has been acknowledged indeed by the permanent secretary that I did all that was appropriate in the circumstances.”

Belfast Telegraph Digital

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph