Committee Recalls Department Of Finance Officials
Session: Session currently unavailable
Date: 16 October 2020
Reference: PAC 01/20/21
The Northern Ireland Assembly Public Accounts Committee is recalling Department of Finance officials, including Permanent Secretary and Accounting Officer Sue Gray, to give further evidence on two Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) reports into which it is conducting an inquiry. The Departmental Officials previously gave evidence to the Committee on 24 September 2020 and will return to the Committee’s meeting on Thursday 22 October.
Chairperson of the Committee, William Humphrey MLA said, “While we appreciated the Department officials giving evidence on the inquiry last month, we were not satisfied that they fully answered the questions we asked. It is true that the officials provided us with assurances that many of the issues, identified by the NIAO, are being addressed; however, we were given little insight into what had gone wrong in the first place.
“We were particularly concerned that the Permanent Secretary did not appear to be in a position to provide answers about what had taken place before she came into post. This has been normal practice in the past.”
The inquiries under discussion are LandWeb and Managing the NI Direct Strategic Partner Project – helping to deliver Digital Transformation. LandWeb is a Public Finance Initiative (PFI) project, managed by the Department of Finance’s Land and Property Services Division and delivered by British Telecommunications plc (BT). It provides online access to Northern Ireland’s Land Registry, Registry of Deeds, and Statutory Charges register. The Committee agreed to carry out an inquiry after the NIAO found that the fees for using LandWeb were set too high, and that BT received a number of contract extensions that increased their fees from £46 million to £97.89 million.
The Digital Transformation Project originally saw BT being awarded a contract in 2012 to provide IT solutions, skills and capabilities to support the migration of citizen services to online provision. The contract funded a contact centre, developed 13 major applications, two major consultancy contracts and a number of cross-cutting applications across various central government departments. Not until September 2018, six years after the contract was established, was the Department able to provide details of the total cost against the individual projects delivered through it.
Chairperson William Humphrey concluded, “Given the important issues at stake, as well as the budgets involved, we look forward to having an opportunity to delve more deeply into some of the matters that were not fully explored previously.
“We believe that this information will help us to conclude our findings and make meaningful recommendations for improvements in the future. We are pleased to welcome the officials to our next meeting.”