Belfast Telegraph

RHI: Official launched grievance against Deti chief as scandal escalated

By Staff Reporter

A key civil servant working on the bungled Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme said she was "approaching breaking point" and took out a grievance against a departmental head as the multi-million pound green energy scheme unravelled in late 2016.

In an email copied to the former head of the Civil Service Malcolm McKibbin and published by the RHI Inquiry yesterday, Joanne McCutcheon spoke of how she saw conflicts of interest "everywhere" in the troubled Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Deti).

"I am suffering from work-related stress and finding the current work situation absolutely intolerable; I am approaching breaking point," she said.

"There is no one in the department able to provide me with impartial advice or support, I seem unable to have my voice heard in any forum that matters.

"There is a conflict of interest absolutely everywhere I look in the department."

Her grievance was taken against Dr Andrew McCormick, who was then permanent secretary of Deti.

Ms McCutcheon was concerned that the way the department had handled the ongoing RHI situation was not fair to her and her team.

Sir Malcolm (left) said in his witness statement that Ms McCutcheon's grievance is currently on hold until the public inquiry publishes its report.

Ms McCutcheon's email is among the more than 700 pages supplied to the RHI Inquiry by Sir Malcolm, who was head of the Civil Service when the botched scheme exploded into public consciousness in late 2016.

Today sees the final hearing of the public probe, which is chaired by retired judge Sir Patrick Coghlin.

Sir Malcolm will face the panel in today's session, when he will be asked about the oversight he gave to a scheme, which will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds.

In his witness statement Sir Malcolm makes it clear that he had no role in the setting up or running of the RHI scheme, but began to actively monitor it after January 26, 2016, when he was told of the massive potential overspend.

"I had no role in respect of the setting up, design, implementation, operation, promotion, formal oversight, governance, funding, amendment (including the introduction of cost controls) suspicions and/or closure of the scheme from its inception up to the present day," he said.

"However, I assumed an active role in monitoring and encouraging appropriate resolution of the matter once I became aware of significant emerging issues on January 26, 2016.

"I continued to remain closely involved with issues arising and was committed to ensuring that the reasons why this situation had arisen were identified."

Sir Malcolm commissioned an independent review into the running of RHI - but this was overtaken when the public inquiry was announced in early 2017.

Sir Malcolm also revealed that two of his most senior civil servants - Deti's Dr McCormick and David Sterling of the Department of Finance - felt that they should not be subject to the review of the governance and management of the RHI scheme he had ordered.

The inquiry into RHI has been active since April 2017 and is expected to cost around £6m.

Belfast Telegraph

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