The Northern Irish government’s bungled handling of a renewable heating scheme has been described as “catastrophic” by the UUP.
A report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office into the running of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme has outlined how one farmer is allegedly in line to receive £1m of public money over the next 20 years for heating an empty shed, due to a Stormont failure to control the energy scheme.
The RHI scheme encouraged the installation of costly eco-friendly heating systems by paying a tariff per kilowatt of heat burned over a 20-year period.
UUP economy spokesman Steve Aiken said: “It is hard to exaggerate just how damning the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General is of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and its mismanagement of the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.
“When the scheme was brought to a sudden end by the former Minister Mr Bell in February, he blamed the 2015 Autumn budget statement at Westminster and an ‘unexpected rise in applications’. This Report, in paragraph after paragraph blows his excuses out of the water. In reality HM Treasury made it clear to DETI that the scheme would not be funded on an unlimited basis as far back as April 2011. Minister Bell’s Department knew there were major monetary difficulties with the scheme but decisions were taken too late to prevent the financial mess which we have all been left with.
“The report makes clear that if the Northern Ireland department had followed the way the scheme was implemented in the rest of the UK - with sensible safeguards to control costs and protect the public purse - then this situation could have been avoided.
“Now we have a situation where the Audit Office is telling us that the cost to the Northern Ireland block grant will be around £140 million over the next five years. This is a catastrophic and self-inflicted failure of devolved government. Two successive Ministers and the Permanent Secretary - who is the Department’s chief accounting officer - stand accused of presiding over this fiasco. I await their explanations with interest.”