Belfast Telegraph

Greater scrutiny may have raised questions over botched RHI scheme: Civil Service boss

By Staff Reporter

The head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service has said that if the Renewable Heat Incentive had been more closely scrutinised, questions would have been raised.

David Sterling made the comment yesterday as he gave evidence to a public inquiry into the botched green energy scheme.

He said a "fairly thorough review" would have caused some "pertinent questions" to be asked about whether the scheme was working as had been planned.

Mr Sterling was previously permanent secretary of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI), which was in charge of the RHI.

The initiative became embroiled in scandal when it emerged that claimants could effectively earn more money the more biomass they burned because the subsidies on offer for renewable fuels were far greater than the cost of the fuels themselves.

Mr Sterling also told the inquiry that "more credence" should have been given to the concerns raised by a so-called whistleblower who tried to alert the then DETI minister Arlene Foster to a major flaw in the RHI.

Janette O'Hagan emailed Mrs Foster twice in 2013 and also met three civil servants responsible for the design and running of the initiative over her concerns.

Mr Sterling says there were signals that there was "merit in what she was saying".

The approach taken by civil servants to Ms O'Hagan's concerns was "at best, naive" and it "surprised" Mr Sterling.

When asked by inquiry barrister David Scoffield how much of the RHI scandal is "his personal responsibility", Mr Sterling responded: "I think it's for the inquiry to reach that judgment."

He added: "If there are issues with my performance or conduct there are processes within the service for dealing with those."

The inquiry also heard yesterday from John Mills who managed the energy team at DETI. He claimed to the inquiry that there had been no overlap with his predecessor in the role, Fiona Hepper, just a half-day handover session.

He said he felt it would have been helpful if they had worked alongside each other for a while.

During the brief handover, he told the inquiry, the only concern over the RHI was that the uptake was "very slow" and money allocated for it was therefore going unspent and being handed back to the Treasury.

He also claimed to the inquiry that the message was not passed on to him to ensure there was a full review of the RHI conducted by the start of 2014. Mr Mills added that decisions over RHI "seemed to me to have been taken before my arrival".

Belfast Telegraph

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