Belfast Telegraph

Trouble-hit hotelier body probed after asset sell-off

By David Gordon

A watchdog report has questioned the way an umbrella body for Northern Ireland hoteliers sold off its assets after a financial collapse.

The study also voiced concern at the organisation's handling of its debts. The comments about the Hospitality Association of Northern Ireland (HANI) were made in an Audit Office report. Its findings will be the subject of a hearing of the Assembly Public Accounts Committee tomorrow. HANI was the voice of the province's hotel sector and received public funding in the 1990s for training initiatives. It ceased trading in 1998 amid financial problems and was dissolved six years later.

The Audit Office said HANI assets were sold to one of its members, Kiang Ltd, in 1999. It subsequently ceased trading, with its last accounts filed that same year.

The report said a previous audit study on the hotels' body had noted working papers valuing the assets at £47,000. They were later sold for £15,000, with the process handled by HANI's auditor.

"It was wholly appropriate for HANI's auditor to handle the sale of its assets," the Audit Office commented.

HANI had debts of almost £75,600 in 1998, including £60,800 owed to a company called HOW Systems for the provision of publicly-funded training courses.

HOW reluctantly accepted £30,000, which played a major part in its subsequent closure, the report said.

The Audit Office said sufficient grant-aid had been provided to cover the costs of the training and it was not acceptable that HOW had incurred substantial financial losses.

The report to the Assembly said HANI had gifted a car in 1997 to its departing Training Manager Catherine Williamson as a gesture of goodwill. It had been bought two years earlier for £11,695 and the gift was valued at £3,179 in HANI's 1997 accounts, it stated. The Audit Office also reported that HANI's auditor - accountant Frank Cunningham - was fined 2,500 euro by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in 2005, after an investigation into his work on the hospitality body's accounts.

Belfast Telegraph