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Public deserve answers over green heating scheme scandal

In recent weeks Stormont has heard quite remarkable testimony from one of the most senior civil servants in the Northern Ireland administration regarding the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, which will end up costing the public purse an estimated £1 billion.

The Public Accounts Committee has been examining the scheme which was introduced in 2012 with the aim of encouraging businesses to move away from fossil fuels and install biomass boilers.

However, as a scathing Audit Office report found in July, the initiative, which was administered by the department of enterprise (DETI), has not only incurred enormous cost to the public purse but concerns have been raised over the systems in place to prevent or detect abuse.

A lack of cost controls meant that businesses were able to claim huge sums of public money for running the boilers, with some people receiving vast sums for heating empty buildings.

Commitments made under the scheme have exceeded the amount that the Treasury was prepared to fund and the additional cost to the Northern Ireland block grant will be £140 million over the next five years.

Incredibly, this scheme will continue to incur costs until 2036 by which time more than £1 billion of taxpayers' money will have been paid out to Northern Ireland-based businesses after they installed new appliances.

In September Dr Andrew McCormick, permanent secretary at the economy department, apologised for the `very serious mistakes' that have occurred. On Wednesday he told the committee: ``I cannot recall anything that was on the scale in relation to both opportunity costs to public service and...poor value for money.''

We are told that in 2013 a whistleblower raised concerns but officials dismissed the claims, which is yet another alarming aspect of this fiasco.

The shocking waste of public money and the lack of oversight of this scheme represents an absolute scandal.

It is a failure on a monumental scale and the public will rightly demand to know where responsibility lies.

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