Admin accounts for 80% of costs at Northern Ireland Environment Agency
The agency tasked with protecting Northern Ireland's environment spent 80% of its costs on administration last year, it has been revealed.
The Northern Ireland Environment Agency's (NIEA) bill for admin totalled more than £30m in the 12 months to April.
Part of the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), the organisation works to protect, conserve and promote our natural environment and built heritage.
However, its spending has come under the spotlight after details emerged of its huge admin bill. In 2015/16, over £31.6m was spent on administration costs, compared to £8.1m on programme costs, Environment Minister Michelle McIlveen said.
She was responding to an Assembly question from the UUP's Harold McKee.
Mr McKee said: "The Northern Ireland Environment Agency has the important task of safeguarding much of our local environment and heritage.
"This is achieved through monitoring and enforcing regulation, designating and managing sites and awareness-raising measures.
"Whilst the NIEA of course incur administrative costs, including paying some staff responsible for the benefit of the local environment, I am shocked that so little of its budget is being spent on actual environmental programmes compared to previous years."
The proportion of operating costs spent on administration at the NIEA has increased from 54% in 2008, when the agency was first established, to 65% in 2014/15.
In the last 12 months it reached its highest ever recorded level - 79.6%.
Its record administration costs came in the same year that the body failed to meet four of the six targets set by the Environment Minister.
Mr McKee added: "Last year the functions of the Historic Environment Division, as well as almost 100 staff, transferred from the NIEA to the then Department of the Environment.
"This division, however, awarded only £4.6m grants in the previous year, and therefore cannot account for even half of the £11.5m reduction in the NIEA programme costs last year."
Mr McKee, who is his party's spokesman on environmental issues, called for a review of priorities.
He said: "The NIEA needs to reassess its priorities and ensure that as much of its funding - which is primarily provided by the Northern Ireland Executive - is spent to the maximum benefit of the local environment and programmes created to support it."