Northern Ireland news

RHI: Moy Park queried Audit Office findings

Poultry farming accounts for a significant proportion of claimants under the RHI scheme

FOOD processing giant Moy Park claimed in a meeting with Stormont officials that a spike in RHI applications had not been driven by the poultry industry.

The firm also queried some aspects of last year's damning Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) report that exposed the scale of the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal.

It was agreed following the meeting to inform NIAO's comptroller and auditor general that Moy Park would be willing to contribute to any future "value for money study".

The details emerged in correspondence from a meeting Moy Park representatives had in January with the Department of Finance (DoF).

In a memo to the Department for the Economy (DfE), a finance department official wrote: "The Moy Park team commented that their data did not support the assumption that the poultry industry had driven the spike in applications experienced in autumn 2015."

But in response, DfE dismissed the analysis.

An official wrote: "Full details of the spike in applications were sent to you on January 16 2017. This clearly contradicts Moy Park's assertion that the poultry industry did not have a significant impact on the spike."

In a presentation, Moy Park also queried some calculation assumptions made in the NIAO report.

But the DfE civil servant claimed there were "a number of factual inaccuracies in the Moy Park presentation including the costs associated with this project".

A public inquiry has been launched into RHI after it ran a projected £490m over budget amid claims of abuse – including a farmer allegedly heating an empty shed for profit.

Figures show farming accounts for the majority of RHI claimants.

The scheme saw a huge spike in applications in the months before November 2015 when a cap on the lucrative subsidies was introduced.

Around half of all poultry farmers supplying Moy Park are RHI claimants, according to the Stormont documents released through a freedom of information request.

In an email to Moy Park following the meeting, DoF thanked the firm for its presentation.

An official wrote: "As agreed at our meeting I have contacted the comptroller and auditor general and advised that your organisation is also willing to provide a similar overview to the NIAO should a further value for money study be undertaken into renewable heat."

Asked about the correspondence, Moy Park said it told Stormont departments that its information suggested RHI poultry industry uptake was "relatively steady", and that economy officials at the time said "this was also their understanding".

"As Moy Park is supplied by independent, family-owned farms, we do not have definitive details on applications to the scheme made by our contracted growers," a spokeswoman said.

"During the meetings with the departments, we made it clear that our assumption was based on limited information as we did not have access to official data.

"This was presented as our view rather than an assertion. We have received no further feedback on this from either department following our presentation."

She added: "Moy Park did not request a meeting with the Audit Office but we are open to a meeting, if our contribution can be of value."

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