Belfast Telegraph

Department shaking up guidelines after scathing Social Investment Fund report

By Victoria Leonard

The Department of Finance is to publish updated guidance on the handling of public money here following the Northern Ireland Audit Office's (NIAO) report into the £93m Social Investment fund (SIF).

The NIAO report slammed "significant failings" in the SIF, set up to support projects tackling deprivation.

And it revealed that the Executive Office "does not hold a clear audit trail in relation to the award of public funding".

One of the NIAO recommendations was for the Department of Finance to consider whether Managing Public Money Northern Ireland (MPMNI) - a document which sets out the main principles for dealing with resources used by public sector organisations in Northern Ireland - should be updated.

This would include establishing the feasibility of major proposals prior to their commencement, and if so, updating the guidance as soon as possible.

In a letter to Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt, permanent secretary Sue Gray confirmed that her department would accept the recommendation and planned to "publish an updated version of MPMNI, which will include feasibility".

Mr Nesbitt said: "HM Treasury updated advice on Managing Public Money in England some years ago, meaning departmental accounting officers can ask ministers to give them written instructions to proceed in circumstances where there is significant doubt about the feasibility of a project, including whether it can be delivered accurately, sustainably and on time.

"In SIF's case, there are question marks against all three categories which could have been addressed if the Managing Public Money advice was updated.

"I take this as an acknowledgement that SIF was a good idea badly managed by the Executive Office, without the proper checks and balances to ensure tax payers' money was being spent in an appropriate manner.

"I am glad that lessons are being learned within the Civil Service. I can only hope the DUP and Sinn Fein will also reflect on their handling of the fund and the criticism they handed out to other parties who raised concerns from the outset."

Belfast Telegraph

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