08/11/2018

Stormont Fund For Disadvantaged Areas Did Not Operate Transparently

A Stormont fund to aid disadvantaged communities in Northern Ireland did not operate transparently and had "significant failings", according to a report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO).

The £93million Social Investment Fund (SIF), which was administered by the Executive Office, was allocated to support projects tackling deprivation.

The audit was published today, 08 November, by the Comptroller and Auditor General Kieran Donnelly, and identifies "a number of serious concerns" in the initial stages of the fund, including "conflicts of interest which were not always appropriately dealt with".

It also highlights "significant failings in the governance framework" that underpin the initiative, and reveals that the Executive Office "does not hold a clear audit trail in relation to the award of public funding".
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The report concludes by urging that lessons are learned and improvements made when similar public spending schemes are developed, and makes seven clear recommendations including the Executive Office holding documentation "to justify why decisions were made and demonstrate that assessment processes have been applied fairly, consistently and transparently".

Mr Donnelly added that the findings over the governance of the scheme are "very concerning".

"The importance of good administration and ensuring conflicts of interest are adequately handled should be well understood in the public sector," he said.

"But in the case of the SIF, the guidance produced by the department was inadequate, there was little evidence that procedures were followed, and a number of conflicts weren't declared.

"Evidence from my audit work across the public sector suggests there is a role for additional expertise to support good governance and maintaining high standards."



(JG)

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