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The top civil servant at the Department of Finance (DoF) is facing further questions by a Stormont committee

The top civil servant at the Department of Finance (DoF) is facing further questions by a Stormont committee

The top civil servant at the Department of Finance (DoF) is facing further questions by a Stormont committee

The top civil servant at the Department of Finance (DoF) is facing further questions by a Stormont committee.

Permanent Secretary Sue Gray is among officials recalled to give further evidence on two Northern Ireland Audit Office reports.

Committee chair William Humphrey said members were not satisfied with answers they had received. The committee is examining two reports on projects where costs soared.

The first, on the management of the NI Direct Strategic Partner Project, was published in June 2019 and investigated how its projected cost rose from £50m to £110m. The report criticised the “unacceptable” failure of the Department to introduce strong controls over expenditure.

The second report, published earlier this year, relates to the Landweb project, a Public Finance Initiative (PFI) project, managed by the Department’s Land and Property Services Division and delivered by BT plc.

Auditors found that fees for using LandWeb were set too high, and that BT had received contract extensions that increased their fees from £46m to £97.89m.

Mr Humphrey said: “While we appreciated the department officials giving evidence on the inquiry last month, we were not satisfied that they fully answered the questions we asked.

“It is true that the officials provided us with assurances that many of the issues, identified by the NIAO, are being addressed; however, we were given little insight into what had gone wrong in the first place.

“We were particularly concerned that the Permanent Secretary did not appear to be in a position to provide answers about what had taken place before she came into post. This has been normal practice in the past.”

Mr Humphrey added: “Given the important issues at stake, as well as the budgets involved, we look forward to having an opportunity to delve more deeply into some of the matters that were not fully explored previously.”

The DoF said the Permanent Secretary “was invited last week for a follow up session. She advised she is happy to attend to answer any further questions the Committee may have”.

Belfast Telegraph