Committee Slates Housing Executive over Management and Accountability Failures
Date: 20 March 2013
Reference: PAC 03/12/13
A new report from the Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee has concluded that the Housing Executive failed in its duties to manage and be accountable for services it provided.
The damning report, entitled ‘Management of Response Maintenance Contracts in the Northern Ireland Housing Executive’ was also critical of the Department for Social Development, the Department responsible for overseeing the Housing Executive.
Speaking at the launch of the Report, Chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee, Michaela Boyle MLA, said: “The Committee recognises that the Housing Executive has played a pivotal role in the provision of social housing over the past 40 years, often in difficult and challenging circumstances.
“We know that most Housing Executive staff overseeing those businesses contracted to respond to maintenance needs are diligent and hard working. However, we found that the management and oversight of this service has been abjectly poor – so poor that it calls into question the capability and competence of management within the Housing Executive over many years, particularly at a senior level.
“We would even go so far as to say that it would appear that some members of senior management actively undermined the systems of control that had been put in place.”
The Report highlighted the fact that the Committee had raised concerns about the performance of the Housing Executive’s management after issues were raised by a whistle-blower and that these reviews had been on-going since 2008.
The Report found that there was a culture within the Housing Executive that discouraged staff from raising concerns, including the use of IT to attempt to identify an anonymous whistle-blower.
Ms Boyle said: “The practices we found give the impression that staff who raise concerns in the course of their work or in a whistle-blowing capacity will not be supported or protected. I want to put this on the record — discouraging whistle-blowing or creating the perception that whistle-blowers are not welcome is simply unacceptable.”
One case, which amply illustrated the failings of the Housing Executive, was that of the Red Sky contract. The contract was terminated by the Housing Executive after allegations of overcharging and subsequent investigations into the company’s performance.
Ms Boyle said: “What was even more disconcerting in this contract was the fact that, while it took the Housing Executive more than 10 years to deal effectively with the poor performance of this contractor, for most of this time the Department was completely unaware of the problems. This places serious question marks over the Department’s oversight of the Housing Executive. Even more worrying is our fear that the Housing Executive’s weaknesses extend into other areas of their activity. We are particularly concerned that their Housing and Regeneration Division, which looks after maintenance and land purchases, had been out of control for many years.”
Ms Boyle concluded: “We welcome the commitments given by both the Housing Executive and the Department to introduce substantial changes to improve the way the Housing Executive manages itself, its accountability, the management of contractors and the way it ensures value for money. However, this does not mask the basic failures in governance and management which have exposed the Housing Executive to a very significant risk of fraud, impropriety and poor value for money over many years.”