Belfast Telegraph

Auditors raise concerns over millions of pounds in Stormont accounts

By Adrian Rutherford

Auditors have raised concerns over the accounts of four Stormont departments - including three former departments.

Investigations have flagged up irregularities involving millions of pounds.

The main reasons include lack of control or approval for spending or money which was not used for its intended purpose.

The details emerged after an Assembly question from UUP MLA Robin Swann. He asked which departmental accounts for the last financial year had been qualified, meaning they could not be given a clean bill of health.

Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir said four departments' accounts were qualified by Comptroller and Auditor General Kieran Donnelly. These were:

  • The former Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI);
  • The former Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD);
  • The Department of Justice
  • And the former Department of Social Development (DSD).

Mr Swann, who chairs Stormont's Public Accounts Committee, voiced alarm at the answer.

"I am concerned not only that the Auditor General has had to qualify these accounts, but also that this information has first come to light through an Assembly question," he said.

The departments of Enterprise, Agriculture and Social Development no longer exist after the number of departments was cut from 12 to nine earlier this year. In his answer, Mr O Muilleoir said DETI's accounts were qualified for two reasons.

The first related to the non-domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme. In July an Audit Office report found "serious systematic failings" in the Stormont-run renewable energy scheme. The Auditor General said there was insufficient evidence that the department's controls over the spending on the scheme were adequate to prevent or detect abuse.

Therefore he was unable to form an opinion whether the expenditure had been applied for the purposes intended by the Assembly.

He also qualified the accounts due to the department not receiving approval from the Department of Finance for £11.9m of the £30.5m spent on the RHI.

DARD's accounts were qualified for two reasons.

One was as a result of financial corrections imposed by the EU Commission totalling £17.4m.

The Auditor General concluded this fell outside of the Assembly's intentions in relation to the proper administration of EU funding. DARD's accounts have been qualified on this basis since the 2009/10 financial year.

The Department of Justice's accounts were qualified because of concerns over legal aid expenditure.

There was insufficient evidence to support the estimate for provisions for legal aid liabilities shown in the accounts of the Legal Service Agency, which falls under the remit of the DoJ.

DSD's regularity qualification arose from incorrect benefit awards and payment of fraudulent claims, which is a long-standing issue.

Belfast Telegraph


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