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MLAs updated on £6.2bn cost of tackling Covid

The cost covers schemes originating from both Stormont and Westminster.

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Director of the Northern Ireland Audit Office Patrick Barr briefed members on a recent report into Covid expenditure (Liam McBurney/PA)

Director of the Northern Ireland Audit Office Patrick Barr briefed members on a recent report into Covid expenditure (Liam McBurney/PA)

Director of the Northern Ireland Audit Office Patrick Barr briefed members on a recent report into Covid expenditure (Liam McBurney/PA)

MLAs have been updated about the cost of responding to Covid-19 in Northern Ireland.

During an appearance by the Auditor General Kieran Donnelly before the Public Accounts Committee, members were told that the cost of a number of Covid schemes, both from Stormont and Westminster, had topped £6.2 billion.

The final cost was likely to be higher as this total only included schemes which had a value of more £1 million.

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Auditor General Kieran Donnelly appeared before the Public Accounts Committee (Handout/NI Audit Office/PA)

Auditor General Kieran Donnelly appeared before the Public Accounts Committee (Handout/NI Audit Office/PA)

PA

Auditor General Kieran Donnelly appeared before the Public Accounts Committee (Handout/NI Audit Office/PA)

Director of the Northern Ireland Audit Office Patrick Barr briefed members on a recent report into Covid expenditure.

He said: “The intention was to draw together all the schemes, not to go into the value for money, just to draw together all of the schemes in relation to Covid-19 and give a sense of the total cost to Northern Ireland.

“We did a first report and that had an assessment of just over £2 billion, but at the time we couldn’t get a regional cost for the furlough scheme.

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“In our most recent report, the total cost is £6.2 billion, that now includes around £1.5 billion for the furlough scheme.

“We intend to do the report again towards the end of this year.”

The report estimated that the cost to Stormont departments of a range of measures to combat the impact of the pandemic was £3.9 billion, and the cost of Westminster schemes which apply to Northern Ireland was £2.3 billion at March 31 this year.

It is an information-based report, it doesn't make value judgmentsPatrick Barr, Northern Ireland Audit Office director

Three-quarters of the total Stormont Executive spend was across three departments: £1.06 billion by the Department of Health working at the frontline; £1.03 billion by the Department of Finance offering rate reliefs for individuals and businesses; and £0.95 billion by the Department of the Economy offering support to local businesses.

Mr Barr added: “There have been a significant number of ministerial directions. Of the £3.9 billion spent locally, approximately £1.3 billion of it was under direction by a Northern Ireland minister, about a third of the spend.

“It is an information-based report, it doesn’t make value judgments.”

Ministerial Directions are when ministers direct Accounting Officers to proceed with a spending proposal, despite concerns that the spending may breach regularity or propriety principles or may represent poor value for money.

Mr Barr said the Audit Office was currently working on a report on the Small Business Grant Scheme and reviewing the PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) Procurement process in Northern Ireland.


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