Are we seeing spin to reduce the scale of the RHI scandal?

It seems moves are afoot to massage  down the estimate of the RHI overspend and thus presumably the damage to Arlene Foster and her official and party advisers. The “ new” information reported by Jonny Bell in the Bel Tel dates from January and  is therefore not new but newly exposed, we’re told. (Stand by for a chorus telling us they knew it all along).  The scaling down rests on the presented fact that the costs of  installing “combined heating and power plants” ( CHP) was not included in the actual scheme and therefore the cost estimates,  but that bank loans were taken out for the boilers on the basis of Executive guarantees.

I’m not sure if legal action “to force government to re-instate the original tariffs” lets Arlene Foster off the hook a bit or impales her more firmly on it.

Perhaps the journalists who spoke on the RHI at Féile An Phobail will shed some light?  Personally  I wouldn’t blame  them for failing to  have raised the alarm over the regulations  at a time when most politicians and officials  were blissfully unaware of the likely  downside, at least before the whistle blew and Arlene started to wash her hands of blame.

Will the Coghlin inquiry be impressed?

In a presentation seen by this newspaper delivered to government officials in January – just days before the Assembly voted through amendments on the scheme to curb payments – a projected cost of £160m was factored in for a combined heat and power (CHP) plant installation.

It has been reported that for every £1 spent on the fuel, £1.60 could be claimed back, something the Renewable Heat Association for NI (RHANI) strongly disputes.

It says the scheme only ever promised a 12% return on investment, which it says has been broken and is now “unattainable” under the amended scheme.

RHANI says its members, almost half of all those on the scheme, are facing financial ruin, with thousands of jobs in jeopardy, as they face mounting bills and difficulties paying off bank loans taken out on the basis of a government-guaranteed subsidy for two decades.

At the time, Mrs Foster wrote a letter “grand-fathering” the scheme – essentially guaranteeing a return – so that banks would approve loans, and to encourage business to take up the scheme.

RHANI is currently involved in legal action to force the government to reinstate the original tariffs. Earlier this year it lost a court action to prevent the department publishing the list of names of those claiming from the scheme, although it was awarded costs by the judge.

 

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London