A scandal involving the DUP, millions in public money and the NIHE has meant colder homes for locals, a Sinn Féin politician has said.
Sinn Féin Councillor Dermot Nicholl told the Sentinel this week that while he welcomes a Housing Executive scheme to replace windows and heating systems in houses across the Limavady Borough, the work would have been done around 18 months ago were it not for what he described as “procurement issues” arising in the aftermath of a political scandal involving the DUP, a Belfast-based contracting firm, millions in public money and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.
In 2011, the Housing Executive terminated a contract - worth millions - with the maintenance firm Red Sky after an investigation into the company’s work practices, which included allegations of overcharging for work. At that time, SDLP MLA Alex Attwood was Social Development Minister - the department with responsibility for the Housing Executive.
In July that year, following Assembly elections, the new Social Development Minister, DUP MLA Nelson McCausland, asked the Housing Executive to reinstate the Red Sky contracts until a new system for awarding contracts was introduced. An enquiry was also ordered in 2011 into the Housing Executive’s handling of contracts.
In February 2013, the Public Accounts Committee at Stormont published a damning report entitled ‘Management of Response Maintenance Contracts in the Northern Ireland Housing Executive’ which criticised both the management of the Housing Executive and the Department of Social Development.
In July last year, the BBC broadcast an episode of investigative journalism programme ‘Spotlight’ which examined the role of the DUP in attempts to get the Housing Executive to extend the Red Sky contract, prompting a widespread furore throughout Northern Ireland.
Local Councillor Dermot Nicholl believes the debacle lies at the root of “procurement issues” relating to a delay improving Housing Executive homes in the Limavady Borough, a delay confirmed by a spokesperson for the Housing Executive as being caused by “contractual and procurement issues” in response to a query from the Sentinel.
Mr Nicholl said: “Whilst I am welcoming the fact that this scheme is going to take place this year, it should have taken place 18 months ago. The scheme is going to be for the replacement of windows, installing double glazing, as well as a heating upgrade for some people in the Greysteel and Ballykelly areas, as well as homes in areas such as Burnfoot and Gortnaghey. This is something that makes a real difference to people’s homes and is important because of the cost of heating bills.
“I’m welcoming the fact that it is happening now but because of the procurement issues with the Housing Executive at that time it should have been done a long time ago. I just hope that they keep to that and are not deterred from doing the work because some of these houses have not been looked at for a long time.”
A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive has confirmed that the Housing Executive scheme for homes in the Limavady Borough was delayed due to “procurement and contractual issues.”
The Sentinel had asked the Housing Executive for a response to Councillor Nicholl’s assertion that the projects in question had been delayed due to ‘procurement issues’ arising after the cancelled contract with Red Sky and the aftermath of the BBC Spotlight documentary.
A spokesperson replied: “The Housing Executive is committed to ensuring that the window replacement schemes referred to are progressed as soon as possible and expect the schemes to commence in the current year’s programme.
“Tenants have not yet been informed of a definite start date but will be informed closer to the time.”
“We can confirm that the schemes had been delayed due to contractual and procurement issues.”