Belfast Telegraph

Commons committee announces 'short inquiry' into RHI payments

Dr Andrew Murrison.
Dr Andrew Murrison.
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

MPs are to probe the government's attempts to slash payments to those in the RHI scheme.

The Government is attempting to slash payments for those on the botched green energy scheme. Some on the scheme could see their annual payments reduced from £13,000 to £2,000.

Boiler owners have warned they could face financial ruin over the changes with many having taken large bank loans on the back of government guarantees over the payments. They are also concerned they will be uncompetitive with a similar scheme operating in the rest of the UK and one soon to be introduced in the Republic.

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley said the bill needed to be fast-tracked in order to allow business continuity.

The government's was accused of trying to "bludgeon legislation through the House" in a bid to fast-track the changes.

On Friday the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee launched a short inquiry into the new payments structure.

The committee said it was concerned that not enough time was given to scrutinise the revised payments before a decision had to be made.

It has written to Sir Patrick Coghlin, chair of the Independent RHI Inquiry, to advise of the scope of this inquiry.

The Committee will be considering the following matters throughout the new inquiry:

  • The rationale for the new tariff structure
  • How tariffs affect businesses
  • What other options could be considered
  • How tariffs compare with GB scheme
  • The consequences of not introducing changes on March 31
  • How far voluntary buy-out scheme could mitigate potential impact of new tariffs.

The committee comprises of Northern Ireland MPs, Gregory Campbell, Ian Paisley and Jim Shannon of the DUP and independent Lady Sylvia Hermon.

Chair of the Committee, Dr Andrew Murrison MP said: "Businesses across Northern Ireland have structured their finances on the very reasonable assumption that RHI payments were copper-bottomed.

"While the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme can hardly be regarded as a wholly successful policy, righting its wrongs requires proper scrutiny. My Committee will be looking at the Government’s hurried revision of the tariff rates to make sure they are fit for purpose and good for Northern Ireland’s businesses.”

The RHI scheme led to the collapse of Northern Ireland’s devolved government in January 2017.

It was the subject of a lengthy public inquiry, which heard detailed evidence about the escalating costs to the taxpayer.

The initiative went massively over budget, running to hundreds of millions of pounds.

Inquiry chairman Sir Patrick Coghlin is expected to deliver his conclusions later this year.

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