The Northern Ireland Assembly has been dissolved. The election will take place on Thursday 5 May 2016.

Farm Nutrients Scheme poor value for money at £121 Million

Session: 2011/2012

Date: 07 December 2011

Reference: PAC 03/11/12

A scheme put in place to reduce pollution from slurry and manure and so improve water quality was poorly planned and was poor value for money, the Assembly Public Accounts Committee has found.

The Committee which today launched its Report on the Farm Nutrient Management Scheme which cost £121 million was initiated by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) to reduce the contamination of water by slurry and manure.

Speaking about the Report, Paul Maskey MP MLA, Chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee said: “Right from the start, this scheme was poorly planned and badly managed, with the result that it cost millions of pounds more than necessary. For example, widespread use of underground slurry storage tanks, which were a more expensive option than free standing ones, cost the taxpayers an additional £49 million.

“To make matters worse, the Department is unable to demonstrate the extent to which the £121 million of public money spent on this scheme has actually contributed to improving water quality. The Committee can only conclude that the scheme has provided poor value for money.”

Another issue which was highlighted in the Report was the way that an informal valuation of Department owned land was accepted.

Paul Maskey said: “The Committee was astonished to find that an initial informal valuation of £200m for land at Crossnacreevy was accepted without any questions being asked. Based on this valuation, DARD managed to secure additional funding of £89 million from the Department for Finance and Personnel for the implementation of the Farm Nutrient Scheme. Later, however, a formal valuation assessed the site value at between £2.3 and £5.9 million.

The Committee has made a number of key recommendations for designing future schemes to ensure that lessons are learned from its review of the Farm Nutrient Scheme. Foremost among these is the requirement to ensure public funds are only applied where necessary and that assistance is targeted to achieve maximum impact.

Chairperson Paul Maskey concluded:  “High standards of financial management should be a feature of every well-run department; poor financial management weakens accountability, undermines the effectiveness of policy review and compromises decision-making. In the future, DARD must ensure that adequate systems are in place to properly administer future grant schemes, so that best value for money is secured.”

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