A strategic payment?

Another week, another NI Audit Office report that is critical of the allocation of funds by government. This time its the Department of Social Development, who have been criticised for awarding the Fernhill House Museum a “rescue package” grant of £98,175, by Belfast Regeneration Office of the DSD, under the Making Belfast Work (MBW) initiative, after a written request by the Museum’s Manager – full report available here – The interesting point to note, as well the museum’s manager being Tommy Kirkham of the UPRG, is that throughout the report the Department deny that they acted improperly, despite the fact that the Audit Office’s view is that the grant was irregular and the report’s conclusion that – “We are of the view that the Department’s assessment of the application did not conform to the minimum requirements for an economic appraisal required by DFP nor did it satisfy the Department’s own requirements.”From the report’s Conculsions and Recommendations –

36. We are of the view that the ‘rescue package’ of £98,175 for Fernhill House Museum was novel and contentious expenditure which required the prior approval of DFP[Department of Finance and Personel]. Having failed to obtain DFP approval, payments were, in our opinion, irregular. AS Fernhill’s application for funding was notsubject to the usual application and assessment process, it might well be perceived to have had more favourable treatment than other applicants for funding. We consider that the value for money of the funding decision has not been demonstrated. We are of the view that the Department’s assessment of the application did not conform to the minimum requirements for an economic appraisal required by DFP nor did it satisfy the Department’s own requirements. We are particularly concerned that, in failing to appraise the project in line with DFP guidelines, the Department has acted contrary to an undertaking given to PAC [Public Accounts Committee] in 1998 (paragraph 6).

37. We recommend the Department take action on the following issues in light of the concerns raised by its funding of Fernhill House Museum:

– The Department should ensure that where an assurance is given to PAC as to how a programme is operated, this should be adhered to, even when that undertaking was given by a preceding body:

– The Department must ensure that all projects submitted for financial assistance are subject to assessment and appraisal in accordance with DFP guidelines;

– The Department needs to introduce defined policies and procedures if it is to introduce ‘rescue packages’ or ‘buying time initiatives’;

– The application process must continue to be fair to all applicants. Fast-tracking fuinding application where time is of the essence, is reasonable in practice, but nevertheless requires pre-arranged priority procedures which ensure proper controls and safeguards; and

– Officials need to be alert to the requirements of Government Accounting Northern Ireland on circumstances requiring DFP approvals. The Department should consider further training for its officials.

  • wild turkey

    Excerpts from the NIAO press release

    1. ‘The case for a one year ‘rescue package’ was accepted and the Museum was notified three days after the receipt by DSD of the request for funding.’

    This is the new gold standard which ALL govt departments should meet in responding to correspondence and requests for funding.

    Has anyone out there in sluggerland ever had to wait more than 3 days for a DSD or Social Security Agency (SSA) response to a letter or phone enquiry?

    2. ‘Fernhill might well be perceived to have had more favourable treatment than other applicants for funding as its application for funding did not follow standard internal procedures- no application form was received or pro forma economic appraisal conducted. ‘

    If there was no application form, it can be assumed that the request, and subsequent approval, was based solely on the fernhill letter

    Fernhill Museum can readily become self-financing by selling template letters that other individuals/groups can complete, send off to DSD, or any other govt dept, and three days latter, HEY PRESTO, thanks for the £98k.

    for example,the families of patients laying on trollies in casuality wards could purchase a FERNHILL letter, fill in the blanks, and HEY PRESTO, granny, grandad, whatever loved family member, has a real hospital bed within three days.

    as i am not offay with UK libel/slander laws others in this thread can comment on any perceived bias, sectarian or otherwise, in this matter.

    oh well, back to finish a fascinating book on the free masons.

  • Dec

    It would be interesting to hear Fair_Deal’s take on this…

  • fair_deal

    I was called….

    As regards this the Audit office report itself seems to hit all the nails on the head.

    I wonder who in DSD signed off on it all?

    As regards Gerry Adams call regarding DSD funding through BRO (or MBW or BAT for that matter) I would welcome their funding decisions and history being opened to full public scrutiny and the sooner the better.

  • wild turkey

    fair deal

    agree w’ your assessment of the niao report

    would also be interesting to know what, if any, complaints have been made against DSD under section 75, ie statutory equality duty, of the northern ireland act (1998) and what the outcome has been of any investigations

  • Pete Baker

    turkey

    Of the various issues that arise out of this report, equality is probably the least relevant.

    I mean, are you really suggesting that an equal grant should be awarded somewhere else without a proper assessment?

  • fair_deal

    Turkey

    “complaints have been made against DSD under section 75, ie statutory equality duty, of the northern ireland act (1998)”

    A complaint wont get very far, you can only complain about a policy not an individual funding decision. Lots of people do make such complaints but it is usually so they can have an excuse for a press statement.

  • wild turkey

    Pete Baker

    no i’m suggesting an equal grant be awarded elsewhere. far from it.

    the issue is policy and process

    i am suggesting/interested in whether the relevant policies re funding programmes and decision making process were/are subject to screening and equality impact assessment (eqia).

    as i understand it section 75 refers to the ‘functions’ of designated bodies; ie policies both written and unwritten (including a wink and a nod)

    on the wider issue, am just curious whether other DSD funding decisions have ever been the subject of an s75 complaint.

    however, in this particular instance, equality MAY be of real relevance. if there have been comparable requests from nationalist/republican projects, has DSD acted in a similar fashion and with the same alacrity? i do not know. therefore i ask.

    fair deal
    yeah in this instance i seriously doubt if s75 on a funding decision at this level would get you very far. but funding decisions, starting at the level of annual ‘budget and priorities’ (formerly programme for govt) should be subject to equality analysis/considerations

    its really a question of where the line is drawn.

    i do not know what may or may not motivate individuals ( and i believe the law refers to ‘directly affected individuals’) to make a complaint so can’t comment on the PR side of things though i suspect in some(many? i don’t know) instances you may be right.

  • Pete Baker

    however, in this particular instance, equality MAY be of real relevance. if there have been comparable requests from nationalist/republican projects, has DSD acted in a similar fashion and with the same alacrity? i do not know. therefore i ask.

    Turkey

    It’s an irregular payment, in which proper procedure was not followed and a value for money case for the payment has not been made.

    The equality argument is a red herring in this case.. this is an issue about why this decision was made, and who cleared it.. hence the question contained in the thread title.

    If, on the other hand, you’re questioning the Department’s policies in general in regard to equality assessments.. that’s a completely different thread.

  • wild turkey

    Pete
    agree. it is an irregular payment.

    but why the irregularity?

    and it may be a completely different thread. if so, apologies. i am not familiar with the protocols and politese of threads.

    however, if the top of the thread states

    ‘The interesting point to note, as well the museum’s manager being Tommy Kirkham of the UPRG,’

    then there may equality considerations as the UPRG is a political grouping ( and therefore a s75 category, political opinion)

    i may be wrong, often am.

    perhaps the relevant UPRG is ‘United People Reflecting and Growing’.

    now i would put my tax dollars/pounds into that one.

    its late and the kids aren’t asleep

    talk with u again?

  • Pete Baker

    It’s simply that equality considerations don’t have any revelance to this decision, w. turkey.

    The thread title is A strategic payment?.. the explicit reference to the UPRG,
    Ulster Political Research Group [a UDA think tank – I’m being generous with that description, btw], is intended to link that to the question of whether this was another part of the ongoing, and
    declared, strategy of Hain, the NIO and, importantly, Blair’s Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell, to encourage the leadership of the loyalist paramilitary groups to move along their, as in the government’s, desired path.. at the expense of democracy, the rule of law, etc, etc..

    Sorry if that wasn’t made completely clear in this thread.. but you can look through previous, archived, threads for more references to this strategy.

  • wild turkey

    Pete

    ‘at the expense of democracy, the rule of law, etc, etc.. ‘ i am intrigued. could u elaborate?

    with humility, excuse my naivety in assuming equality should be a consideration when examining departmental decisions, especially those which may, as u infer , be informed by a higher a political strategy/agenda of british government.

    what’s the strategy?
    whats the payment for?
    who benefits?

    pete, no bullshit here. i do remember a saying of deep throat… follow the money

    on this one, where does it lead?

  • Pete Baker

    “where does it lead?”

    Possibly to Jonathan Powell, w. turkey.. that’s only possibly mind.