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Project 'lacked financial controls'

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A Northern Ireland Audit Office report to the Assembly states the Core initiative failed to observe basic financial controls

A Northern Ireland Audit Office report to the Assembly states the Core initiative failed to observe basic financial controls

A Northern Ireland Audit Office report to the Assembly states the Core initiative failed to observe basic financial controls

An economic aid project that received nearly £1 million in public money failed to observe basic financial controls, a damning report has said.

The Northern Ireland Audit Office said vital lessons could be learned from the Core initiative, where eight local councils in Northern Ireland drew down funding to help small businesses expand.

The project first came to the attention of auditors after an anonymous claim that Core had "wasted a mass of public money".

And while the allegation of large scale waste was ruled out, probes did find weak procedures and questioned the handling of public funds.

The report also detailed how inquiries were hampered after a break-in at Core when a computer was stolen, causing the loss of records that had not been backed up.

The organisation was one of a number across Northern Ireland that received £48 million in European Regional Development Fund support through the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment between 1994 and 2006.

The Core initiative involved the Antrim, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Carrickfergus, Coleraine, Larne, Moyle and Newtownabbey councils, which formed the Antrim Area Network in 1998 to jointly fund economic development projects using council and European Union money.

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In the same year the Network took on a corporate identity, renaming itself Core, though the project was wound up in June 2007.

The report presented to the Assembly by the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland Kieran Donnelly highlighted a series of failings in the councils' management and control of Core, pointing to inadequate financial control, ineffective oversight, poor tendering and concerns over conflicts of interests.

The auditor said: "Although the Core initiative was a relatively small-scale operation, the report notes that even small organisations require appropriate internal controls and governance arrangements. It was clear from the work of the Audit Office, however, that these were not in place during much of Core's existence."


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