Housing Executive: Chair jumps before ministerial statement tomorrow…

Brian Rowntree, chair of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive resigned on Friday, although the news was only released today.  It’s thought to be related to a Ministerial statement that ought to make tomorrow’s Assembly session rather more interesting than normal.

It comes on foot of the first of several forensic examinations of the Executive’s books (the Audit Office is due to report later in the year)..

For the BBC, Julian O’Neil references an independent report on contracts carried out by chartered accountancy firm ASM Howarth, who amongst other services specialise in forensic accountancy.

This allows them not simply see how figures add up, but to look at whether and how well contracts are managed. It’s thought that this it is what will feature prominently in tomorrow’s statement.

It began its work in autumn 2011, following the termination of the Housing Executive’s £7m-a-year contract with the Red Sky amid allegations of overcharging and sub-standard work.

But the report is believed to have thrown up issues surrounding invoicing and inspections of work relating to other contractors.

At the time, the Housing Executive was resistent to any suggestion from the Minister that the problems related to its own role in handling all contractors rather than just the east Belfast based, Protestant majority workforce of Red Sky.

He launched his forensic investigation of how the NIHE handles contracts in the teeth of a voluble protest from his predecessor Alex Attwood,  the chairman of the Social Development Committee Alex Maskey, Jim Allister and the public service union NIPSA.

At the time, Pete noted the stand off

Mr McCausland accused the Housing Executive of being aggressive and said a letter he received from its chairman sounded like “a declaration of war”.

“If someone declares war, I’m not going to back away from that. I’m going to continue doing want I want to do, which is to get to the bottom of the contracts issue,” he said.

“It’s clear from all the evidence that there are serious problems in the Housing Executive as regards the management and monitoring of contracts.”

As Chris also noted that the action against Red Sky took place after a two year investigation which appears to have exonerated the NIHE and put all of the blame on a single contractor

Slugger understands that  the Minister’s independent investigation has discovered that the same practices have been ongoing with other contractors, with some of them found to been even worse.

This suggests, despite their vehement denials at the time, that there was a failure in the NIHE’s accounting and validation processes.

We await to see if there is any coherent explanation as to why Red Sky was picked out from all other contractors for particular investigation.

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  • Carsons Cat

    Resign just before damning report to be published.

    Someone hasn’t read the ladybird book of how not to look like a guilty man.

  • lamhdearg2

    “We await to see if there is any coherent explanation as to why Red Sky was picked out from all other contractors for particular investigation.”
    indeed.

  • Brian Rowntree pops up at a lot of corporate governance events very often as a principal speaker if not chairing them himself. He is always clear, cogent and I think very much clued into the political and pragmatic realities of transparency and accountability – he wouldn’t have got the job in the first place otherwise

    As a very small example demonstrates he has his own man in Audit Committee (other than the Chair) challenging and reporting back separately to him as an extra assurance.

    I am looking forward to his side of the story if he’s able to comment freely after the Minister’s announcement.

  • Granni Trixie

    The email he sent to staff sounds terse…like a man at the end of his tether. he does seem to be very experienced so it must have taken a lot to make him resign. (isn’t he a member of PBNI? And Chair of Civil Service Commissioners to mention but two positions?
    problem is that MLas Are privileged and can say what they like so one needs to suspend judgement whatever McCauseland says in his report to the Assembly.

  • chewnicked

    Rowntree picked a fight with McCausland and then resigns before D-Day leaving his staff at the mercy of a Minister with a long memory. His resignation speech has been treated by staff with the scorn and contempt it deserves. On the one hand, he looks for pity saying he needs more personal time and then announciing in the next breath that he has wangled another Quango role in the Civil Service-this on top of his existing jollies such as NAMA,Policing Board etc.
    Rowntree should be honest and just admit that he is a prolific quango hopper.
    Hopefully the next Chairman will be sufficiently motivated and interested to sort out the current mess. Any chance of Sid McDowell coming back?

  • lamhdearg2

    Granni, are you sure (Parliamentary) privilege, extends to Stormont.

  • You have to give Nelson marks for brass neck with that understatement he came out with on tv ‘I didn’t ask Rowntree to resign’ well, quite! BR knows where the bodies are buried. McCausland wanted him to stay as he could browbeat him into going along with his favuoritism re contracts.

  • Evolve

    In light of Niall Blakewell’s contribution, is it the case that as things stand, any of the companies involved could actually be a secret donor to one or more local political parties?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Parliamentary privilege does indeed extend to Stormont, and its committees.

  • Mick Fealty

    It’s extended by statue from Westminster rather than as of it’s own authority. And it’s bound by those precise terms.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I’d be willing to bet a few quid that there aren’t any really seriously shady corporate donation shenanigans going on beyond the funding that is raised around election time. Political parties are generally skint.

    I think we are still dealing with a period where the parties for whatever reason have not really worked out what they are about as as government yet. What we’re seeing are a lot of “pet projects” going on – gauntlets thrown down, which a minister has decided to take up – rather than the outworking of any policy. Which should not really surprise anyone given the parochial way politics and elections are done here.

    It’s perfectly reasonable, and rather boring, to suggest that Arlene is sticking up for the fracking because it promises to create a lot of jobs in her constituency. Nelson simply decided he wasn’t going to take any crap from a civil servant (unionists aren’t, by tradition, known for backing down over stuff), especially not one in charge of a quango which has the (unjustified) reputation for being a bit biased in the way it does things, especially after the Red Sky business killed a whole bunch of jobs in East Belfast.

    That is not to justify the ongoing secretiveness around donations, which simply encourages speculation. But, to reiterate, I rather suspect that when the books are eventually thrown open the cupboards of pretty much everyone will seem somewhat bare.

  • lamhdearg2

    CS,Mick, thanks for putting me right on PP.

  • aquifer

    So the police should let a fraudster off because there is a awful lot of fraud about?

    Ministerial faces should be red.

    Is McAllister away?

  • lamhdearg2

    Is their a set time for this tomorrow.

  • aquifer

    “I’d be willing to bet a few quid that there aren’t any really seriously shady corporate donation shenanigans going on… Partys are generally skint”

    Yep, but the most likely route for corrupt donations is via individual politicians bureaucrats and councillors. That way fewer people have to know, and the gift can be disguised or given in kind. e.g. A local developer lending a politician a car, paramilitaries putting up posters at election time. Cash can be untraceable and can make lots of different things happen without Parties being embarrassed with foreknowledge.

    And what of systematic corruption, dinners becoming entertainment becoming sexual blackmail?

    In laced up Ulster it could be politically fatal and thus supremely effective.

    In a small country of sects simple cronyism is more likely though.

  • tacapall

    This is more a case of individual housing exec employees getting backhanded for instructing work to be done by the various contractors they use. They can hardly complain about shabby work or even uncarried out work that has been invoiced for as each one has the other by the short and curlies its been going on for years with the help of some MLA’s and Belfast City Councillors, its another gravy train for them you cross my palm and I’ll cross yours. I even know of work being created for contractors to carry out so as some favour can be done. When there’s millions of pounds up for grabs in a tendering process, relationships will develop and you will always get corruption.

  • “independent investigation”

    Surely the two independent investigations would produce basically similar reports on NIHE contracting arrangements?

  • lamhdearg2

    Anyone got a copy of what was said.

  • Pigeon Toes
  • Pigeon Toes