NI minister denies influencing contracts before Stormont committee

Thursday 04 July 2013 12.38
A BBC Spotlight investigation made a series of claims about Mr Nelson McCausland, his special adviser and DUP leader Peter Robinson
A BBC Spotlight investigation made a series of claims about Mr Nelson McCausland, his special adviser and DUP leader Peter Robinson

Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland has denied influencing any contracts for Housing Executive maintenance work.

Minister McCausland claimed the BBC's Spotlight programme, which alleged political interference in the public housing body, had taken a partial approach.

A fellow DUP councillor and Executive board member told the programme she was contacted by a special adviser to the minister before a vote on whether the public housing body's contract with the Red Sky maintenance company should be ended.

Mr McCausland said: "I had no confidence that we were not in a situation of taking one contract off one company and handing it across to another company that might be just as bad.

"I can assure you categorically that I have never sought to influence any contracts, neither this nor any other contract, indeed neither do I have any role in this.

"This is, as I have always advised, an operational matter for the Housing Executive alone, they make the decisions."

The Housing Executive's contract with Red Sky was terminated in 2011, following claims of substandard work and financial irregularities.

Last night's programme carried allegations made by Lisburn DUP councillor Jenny Palmer which centre on political interference ahead of a board meeting to discuss the future of Red Sky.

Mr McCausland was addressing Stormont's Social Development Committee. Sinn Fein MLA and committee chairman Alex Maskey said: "People, both in the Assembly and indeed the wider community, will be demanding answers from the minister and his party about their conduct."

A DUP statement claimed that parts of the Spotlight programme were inaccurate and said it had instructed lawyers.

"The party makes absolutely no apology for fighting to save the jobs of those who we believe were singled out and unfairly treated by the Housing Executive at that time," it said.

"All political parties in East Belfast made strong representations on behalf of Red Sky, including those from both the Alliance and Ulster Unionist Party.

"Subsequent findings have demonstrated that four companies were identified as having overcharged in a way that dwarfed the scale of the Red Sky overcharging."

The Assembly's Public Accounts Committee has accused the Housing Executive of being "out of control" in the way it managed maintenance contracts.

SDLP MLA Mark Durkan said: "The Assembly should be recalled immediately. We cannot wait two months to get answers on this."

TUV MLA Jim Allister said: "With the dominant party in the Stormont regime implicated, it is clear no local investigation will suffice.

"I am, therefore, calling on the Secretary of State (Theresa Villiers) to step in and oversee a suitable inquiry.

"There is a fundamental issue of public confidence here which must be addressed."