We’ve already seen the Northern Ireland Audit Office report criticising the NI Department of Agriculture’s handling of the Farm Nutrient Management Scheme – the largest capital grant scheme ever run by the Department of Agriculture, through which some 4000 farmers received grants worth £121million. Now the BBC have reported that a draft report from the NI Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee, due to be published in 3 weeks time, will be equally damning. From the BBC report
It is expected to conclude that the scheme was poorly planned, badly managed and did not provide good value for money.
The draft report is due to be published in about three weeks.
The Pac report, which has been seen by the BBC, said there was no evidence to show how much the scheme actually improved water quality, leading it to question whether the scheme was necessary at all.
It will ask if a smaller but more focused scheme would have been more effective.
It is understood the report will describe the method used to value land at Crossnacreevy near Belfast as “astonishing.”
[Perhaps the minister responsible at the time of the extension of the scheme (June 2007), Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew, will consider her options after all? – Ed] And perhaps not…
After all, the formal approval of the NI Finance Department was required, in June 2007, to extend the scheme to provide grant aid to all applications received before 31 March 2006.
The Department of Agriculture then came up with a plan to sell off the 84-acre plant testing station at Crossnacreevy on the outskirts of Belfast and use the money to boost the grant rate to 60%.
To do that it needed approval from the Department of Finance and Personnel which it provided with an informal valuation suggesting that with planning permission, the Crossnacreevy site was worth more than £200m.
The Department of Finance and Personnel was persuaded to provide the capital cover needed and gave the Department of Agriculture approval to increase the grant rate to farmers.
The Audit Office report said the persuasive point for the Department of Finance was that the £200m capital receipt was considerably larger than the Department of Agriculture was seeking approval to utilise in the farm nutrient management scheme.
The informal valuation though, turned out to be wide of the mark.
An official valuation by Land and Property Services in March 2008 judged the Crossnacreevy site to be worth a maximum of £5.8m and possibly as little as £2.28m.
The report by Land and Property Services also highlighted relocation costs of £6m associated with moving the plant testing operation to another site.
That “informal valuation” was made in June 2007. The site remains unsold.