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Concerns remain over RHI scheme

Over the past few months the independent inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme has heard evidence underlining the deep flaws in the design, management and oversight of an initiative that ran out of control and eventually led to the collapse of the Stormont executive.

Some of the testimony to the inquiry has been at times jaw-dropping and has not reflected well on the DUP or the civil service, providing us with a sense of confusion, lack of knowledge and even lack of curiosity on the part of key figures.

RHI was set up to encourage businesses to switch from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy.

As we know, the main problem with the scheme was the fact that those who installed biomass boilers could earn more money by simply burning fuel.

After this disastrous flaw was uncovered amid claims of empty sheds being heated while the implications for Stormont's finances began to sink in, there was a scramble to bring the situation under some sort of control by introducing reduced tariffs.

Now the auditor general Kieran Donnelly, who raised concerns about RHI in a damning 2016 report, has found a 33 per cent decrease in the amount of heat generated since the reduced rates were brought in.

This is a dramatic fall which will support the contention that boilers were being run unnecessarily in order to claim additional subsidies.

It has also had a considerable impact on the cost to the Northern Ireland block grant which has decreased from £27 million to £2 million.

This retrospective action has plainly achieved results but it does not excuse the lack of controls at the department for enterprise (Deti) which was responsible for this scheme from the outset.

Mr Donnelly has expressed 'significant concerns' about the operation of the scheme, and has highlighted the slow rate of progress on auditing hundreds of boilers.

Clearly, there is much work that still needs to be done to address the serious issues arising from RHI.

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