Ebrington car park spend was irregular: NIAO

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The irregular expenditure of over £4m to complete the recently opened multi-storey car park at Ebrington has resulted in the accounts of the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) being qualified.

According to a new report to the Northern Ireland Assembly by Kieran Donnelly, the Comptroller and Auditor General, Ilex did not request all the required approvals for the Parade Ground element of its Ebrington project in 2010/11 and this has led to knock-on accounting irregularities.

In a section detailing the qualification of various Departmental resource accounts, Mr Donnelly’s report states: “The audit opinion on OFMDFM accounts was qualified because of irregular expenditure totalling £4.31m in 2013/14, incurred on the Ebrington Parade Ground project.

“This project has been ongoing since 2010/11 and is administered by Ilex Regeneration Company Limited.

“Ilex did not request the required approval in 2010/11 from Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) for changes to the parade ground and as a result DFP approval for this project was withdrawn.”

Elsewhere, Mr Donnelly reported that the accounts of all of Northern Ireland’s public further education Colleges, including the ‘Tech’ in Londonderry, were qualified due to a series of pay increases not having been approved by DFP.

“I qualified my audit opinion on DEL and the six further education colleges because pay progression increments had been made to staff in the Colleges without receiving the required approval from DFP,” his report states.

“Despite the payments being made in line with contractual obligations, the absence of DFP approval represents a breach of controls and has resulted in the payments being deemed irregular by DFP. The value of the payments made by the colleges that did not receive approval in their 2012/13 financial years was £3.4m,” it adds.

Unapproved payments at the North West Regional College (NWRC) stood at £332,488.

The newly-published ‘Financial Auditing and Reporting’ is an update to the Assembly of the financial and audit work undertaken by the NIAO on the 2013/14 accounts of government departments.

Amongst its other findings are that the Department of Social Development (DSD) resource accounts were qualified because of estimated benefit overpayments due to fraud and error of £71.9m and estimated underpayments due to official error of £20.8m.

The Statement of Rate Levy for 2012.13 was also qualified for estimated losses of £5.2m due to fraud and error in housing benefit but the qualification in 2011/12 relating to the regularity of vacancy reliefs, which were applied to vacant properties, was lifted. The Housing Executive accounts were qualified due to estimated irregular Housing Benefit overpayments of £21m and underpayments of £4m. Three departments - Education, Health and the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) - exceeded expenditure limits as approved by the Assembly resulting in “excess votes totalling £13m” whilst OFMDFM, DEL and DCAL all “incurred significant expenditure without obtaining the necessary approvals from DFP.