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Civil servants wanted to spread the blame, RHI inquiry is told

The RHI Inquiry was set up to investigate the scheme after its costs spiralled (stock photo)
The RHI Inquiry was set up to investigate the scheme after its costs spiralled (stock photo)

By Staff Reporter

The Renewable Heat Incentive inquiry has heard a claim that civil servants wanted to "spread the blame" for the ill-fated green energy scheme.

Biomass businessman Brian Hood gave evidence to the inquiry at Stormont yesterday about his experiences of the RHI.

His engineering companies sold and installed biomass heating systems.

Mr Hood hit back at a claim by the Department for the Economy that there had been a "conspiracy of silence" in the industry about flaws in the scheme.

He told the inquiry yesterday: "At the end of the day, if the department don't find other people to blame then all the blame is going to land on officials that got it wrong.

"So they want to spread the net out and spread the blame to everybody as much as they can. That's my opinion."

Mr Hood said it had taken him "just days" to work how substantial subsidies could be earned from the scheme.

The inquiry had previously heard that officials in the government department responsible for the scheme did not spot that the subsidy was much higher than the fuel cost until it was too late.

The flaw led to a huge projected overspend.

Mr Hood said he was aware that the regulations were open to abuse.

He said his clients were reputable businesses who were sticking to the spirit and the letter of the law. But he understood that abuse was a possibility.

"Technically you could open the windows and don't turn the heating off. The regulations didn't cater for that," he said.

David Scoffield, QC to the inquiry, asked whether he had ever raised his abuse concerns with officials.

He said he had not.

"We didn't write the regulations, we only implemented them," he said.

Mr Hood also told the inquiry that he assumed officials had done their sums.

"As far as we were concerned they'd brought in independent consultants and, to use a phrase, every man and his dog had had a look at it," he said.

"They'd set the tariff, they'd done their due diligence. Who are we as a mere firm to question the government?

"They got it right as far as I was concerned."

The failed RHI scheme was set up in 2012 with the aim of encouraging businesses to switch to green energy. But a crucial lack of cost control measures left it open to abuse, with applicants able to earn money by burning more fuel than they needed.

When it collapsed in late 2016, it was feared the public would be faced with an overspend bill of nearly £500m. An ensuing political row led to the collapse of Stormont in January 2017.

The RHI Inquiry was set up later that year to investigate the scheme after its costs spiralled.

The inquiry continues.

Belfast Telegraph


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