Lunn questions renewables scheme

Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn has said a renewables scheme which could cost the public purse over £1 billion would look to the public like “legalised fraud”.

Mr Lunn was speaking during a meeting of the Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee today (Wednesday) which heard from a senior civil servant at the Department for the Economy. Permanent Secretary Dr Andrew McCormick apologised for the lack of oversight on the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, which was designed to allow businesses to install biomass boilers. However, some companies allegedly ran woodchip boilers constantly in order to claim a long-term subsidy.

Lagan Valley MLA Mr Lunn said a suggestion the scheme will have cost the public around £1.18 billion by its end was “shocking”.

“I welcome Dr McCormick’s apology to the Committee today for the things which went wrong with this scheme. However, that does not change the fact the public will be out of pocket for double what it was originally intended to cost, almost £1.2 billion, which is a scandalous figure.

“Questions need to be asked about those higher up the food chain at the time also. The former Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, which operated the scheme, had an opportunity to copy the British model, but chose not to. The current First Minister, who was in charge of the Department at the time of the scheme’s launch, should confirm whether it was her or civil servants who made that choice.

“I would also question the legal advice given to the Department while the scheme was being established and ask what contingency planning was carried out in case of high demand of the scheme.

“It is vital lessons are learnt from this matter – the regulator needs to investigate the allegations of fraud immediately and comprehensively, while measures are put in place to prevent it happening again.”

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