Belfast Telegraph

NI Audit Office saved £30.8m by spotting RHI failings: report

A spending watchdog claims it saved the taxpayer £65.6m last year, with almost half of that resulting from the identification of Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) failings. (stock photo)
A spending watchdog claims it saved the taxpayer £65.6m last year, with almost half of that resulting from the identification of Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) failings. (stock photo)
Brett Campbell

By Brett Campbell

A spending watchdog claims it saved the taxpayer £65.6m last year, with almost half of that resulting from the identification of Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) failings.

The latest annual report from the Northern Ireland Auditors Office (NIAO) cites a financial impact report into the botched energy scheme to demonstrate its main achievements during 2018/19.

"Our work identified the fact that the single tariff being paid to applicants to the scheme before November 2015 was in excess of the marginal cost to produce the heat and that it therefore incentivised those applicants to unnecessarily burn more fuel," it states.

"We had a direct impact in reducing tariffs and also in changing the behaviour of applicants once our report was published."

The report states that the cumulative financial impact of identifying the failings was worth £30.8m to the public purse. That accounts for almost half of the total value of savings achieved, which was £65.6m - £15.6m more than in 2017/18.

A total of 10 out of 137 central government accounts were 'qualified' which is only required if accounts "do not present a true and fair view", if "expenditure and income has not been incurred in line with Assembly intentions" or if it "does not conform to the authorities which govern them".

A value for money examination identified "serious concerns", including conflicts of interest "which were not always appropriately dealt with" in the controversial Social Investment Fund (SIF).

Critics have described the fund as a "tribal carve-up" of public money into "slush funds" for DUP and Sinn Fein pet projects.

SIF was awarded £79m to fund 68 projects across Northern Ireland by 2015.

However, delivery has been delayed to 2019/20 and funding increased by over £13m.

The report found that documentation around project selection and prioritisation was poor.

It also stated that the scheme did not operate transparently and governance arrangements were initially poor, and described project delivery targets as "overly ambitious".

Another of the 27 public reports examined the extent to which schools have been able to manage within their budget for the period 2012/13 to 2016/17.

It concluded that the system is "coming close to a tipping point" and found there has been a total reduction of 9.3% in the General Schools Budget within the five year period.

It also found 16% of schools had accumulated deficits in excess of the Education Authority's prescribed thresholds and that a total of seven post-primary schools had a deficit in excess of £1m at March 31, 2017.

Comptroller and Auditor General Kieran Donnelly said 2018/19 has been a challenging but rewarding year for NIAO.

"This has been delivered against a backdrop of an NI Assembly which has not sat since early 2017, a Parliament which has been dominated by Brexit, the ongoing public inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme and an accountancy and audit world in state of flux," he added.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph