EXCLUSIVE: North’s unemployment blackspot £50 million debt approved by councillors

The elected representatives of Derry City and Strabane District Council have authorised a group of financial loans that will see the local authority pay back around £20 million in interest over the coming decades.

Responding to a Freedom of Information request from BtP, the Council provided the list of all loans undertaken by local Council since 2011.  In total, 87 loans have been taken by Council over that period, totaling £31,999,688.

When interest is calculated for each individual loan and combined, ratepayers will pay back a staggering £50,415,645.49.

The purpose and amount of the loans vary – from a £4 million loan to fund Derry’s Guildhall restoration (which when paid will cost almost double), to £8,000 for ground maintenance equipment.

Councillors are given regular updates as to the ‘financial outturn’ of the local authority, having recently been given their most recent report only two days ago at the Governance and Strategic Planning Committee.

Minutes of a meeting of the Governance and Strategic Planning Committee held on 1st March 2016 (found here) show that members of every Party – and Independents on Council received and approved the financial report which includes the overall figure of loans at that time.

Present at this meeting were:

Councillor Carlin (in the Chair); Aldermen Hussey, Kerrigan, Ramsey and Thompson, Councillors Boyle, C Kelly, McGuire, McMahon, O’Reilly, Reilly and Robinson.

Non-Member of Committee:- Councillors Carr, Cusack, Donnelly, Gallagher, Hastings, D Kelly and P Kelly.

Minutes of the meeting show:

GSP70/16 Nine Month Financial Outturn

A Member of the Sinn Fein grouping in relation to the above item, noted the positive financial position of Council and thanked all involved for their hard work.

Rates have been increased twice in the last two years by the Council.

The loans provided to BtP exclusively, are as follows:

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DERRY: Where the economics are NUTS

It is probably impossible to discern how many times the tremendously battered cliché that a week is a long time in politics has been printed or spoken by journalists since it was used first by Harold Wilson at some point in the mid-1960s.

Was he still alive, I wonder how he’d respond to the question of how the last eight months has played out politically in Northern Ireland? ‘Interminable’, may have been his answer.

It wasn’t in the end interminable. Then again, nothing ever truly is. Instead the lifetime of the latest Assembly lurched, perhaps inevitably to a terminal conclusion.

At the tail end of those eight months a lot has happened in terms of political recrimination. That it was politically eventful in the wider sense not in doubt. But, actual wide ranging political progress, the whole point of devolution, has again been completely absent from ‘that hill’ on the outer edge of East Belfast.

And, time again may eventually also reveal whether the actual cause of the latest collapse of the Assembly. Was it caused by the scandal around RHI? Was it the glaring unwillingness of the DUP to truly grasp the essence of power sharing? Or was it because, seemingly at last aware of the grumblings within their grass roots about the ‘futility’ of maintaining the Stormont Executive, Sinn Fein implemented their right to pull the institutions down?

No matter the various theories on the latest collapse of Stormont, be they practical or ideological or a combination of both, the result remains the same. This day week, Thursday, March 2, the population of the North will be asked yet again to vote in an election to return representatives to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Not even those standing in this snap election have the nerve to confidently predict that there will be a return to devolved government after the election. Given the pre-election dogma from Sinn Fein that there cannot be a return to the status quo, it is truly hard this time to see any last-minute miracle cure to resurrect power sharing in post-election negotiations. That too may be a matter of political practicality, it may even fall within the realms of pragmatism. The DUP for their part appear to remain as dogmatic as they were prior to the collapse. On the side lines the SDLP and UUP are taking part in some kind of unspoken pact in the hope that the electorate in their slightly more heated apathy opt for a more diluted version of Orange and Green.

Failure to resurrect the Executive will mean a return to direct rule from London enacted by unelected civil service mandarins posing as representatives of the Northern Ireland Office. I would suggest that in the dim corridors and musty side offices of Whitehall at the minute a lot of low profiles are being kept lest the dreaded call to collect a plane ticket to Belfast comes through on ‘one’s telephone extension’.

Should that likely eventuality arise, almost twenty years after the Belfast Agreement, from a nationalist perspective, the status quo will have returned.

This election, we have been told, is not one built upon a question on the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. It is one based on a need to seek to destroy corruption, to increase accountability, to ensure that revamped structures contain enough political mechanisms to provide mature and fiscally responsible governance. These mechanisms should also provide for avenues approaching proper power-sharing structures- so we are being told.

The fact is however that every election in Northern Ireland boils down to the consideration of the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. Let’s face it, if every election wasn’t like this to a certain extent we wouldn’t have found ourselves in this position yet again. It is a perennial and inescapable tenet of political life in this state.

Whilst this latest hiatus unfolds however, there are many issues that once more fall by the wayside in the distraction of the Orange and Green Punch and Judy show.

Note to self: (Wasn’t there a crocodile in that too if I’m not mistaken? He liked eating strings of sausages I recall. Hopefully, there were Moy Park products. Nothing wrong with that crocodile protecting the local economy, as long as he doesn’t want the packaging scribed in Gaelic).

Another perennial and inescapable tenet of life in Northern Ireland has, since partition, been the economic disparity east and west of the Bann. The monthly unemployment figures for Northern Ireland were released last week.

Desperate for credence politicians clung to the fact that the overall total for joblessness fell by 1,000. The tenth successive month that a drop had been recorded. That this happened at all in a state that must look increasingly laughable in international terms because of the failure of our ruling parties to achieve basic co-operation never mind attract inward investment, is of course laudable.

Yet again, we here in the ‘whinging west’ as we are apt to be known, found ourselves top of the scrap heap yet again. Derry City remains the worst unemployment blackspot once more with the jobless figure at 7%.

Following on from Beyond The Pillars recent piece on RRI (how revenue is generated and spent in Northern Ireland) (click here for the piece) and how the North West was basically ignored by these mechanisms we have a few more thoughts on the overall situation.

How, we are asking, did the Northern Ireland Executive deal with the idea of ‘regional disparity’?

This is the notion that the political leadership in this state attempted to look at developing economic growth across Northern Ireland on a more even handed basis and not just in the eastern section of the state, and more specifically Belfast City.

Whilst I was employed as a political adviser at Stormont in 2013, I penned a paper calling for an Independent Review of Economic Policy undertaken by the Executive in 2009. The 2009 approach taken had largely dictated the direction of economic policy from that point onwards and in effect consigned a flexible approach to the fiscal dustbin (click here to see the paper). Since that point also, the overall ignorance of the Executive to the needs of the North West has been staggering.

The Economic Advisory Group (EAG), a panel of experts that advised the then Enterprise Minister, Arlene Foster: “In summary we would suggest that promoting sub-regions within Northern Ireland should not be considered a high priority at this time.”

The letter to Mrs Foster from the EAG came in March, 2014.  Essentially, the EAG asserted that Northern Ireland must be viewed as one economic entity and that businesses would invest where they felt that their interests were best served. Furthermore, they contended that the Executive should not interfere with that overview by promoting investment in specific areas such as Derry.

This advice was duly adhered to by the Executive.

Beyond the remit of Stormont, the Westminster MP for Foyle, Mark Durkan, has looked at an alternative to locally ascribed sub-regional intervention under what is termed a ‘City Deal’.  This deal involves specific intervention to address economic imbalance within an individual geographical location.

Speaking in a debate on the issue just prior to the Assembly election last May, Mr Durkan said: “Listening to DUP MPs, it would have been easy to be lulled into a culture of contentment with all this talk of economic miracles and the economy going well, or, as the Deputy First Minister put it a few weeks ago, the economy being in a “happy place”. The reality is that in my constituency (of Derry) the jobseeker’s allowance claimant count is 10.3%, whereas the Northern Ireland average is 4.6% and the UK average is 2.5%. The 18 to 24-year-old JSA claimant count is 12% in my constituency in the North West, whereas the Northern Ireland average is 5.8% and the UK average is 2.9%. The disparities are similar in the child poverty rate.

“Although the emphasis in the previous Programme for Government, and from the UK government, has been on the need to rebalance our economy – the move on corporation tax is one part of that – we also need to rebalance our region. We need greater investment in the West and elsewhere. We cannot just have policies and benefits that concentrate on Belfast.”

“Will the (NIO) Minister tell us about some of the opportunities for the next Assembly to work with the UK government on city deals and enterprise zones? Those opportunities were available to us throughout the whole of the last Parliament, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that he would give Northern Ireland enterprise zones and city deals if he got proposals from the Executive – but proposals came only in 2014 and when one finally came it was for an enterprise zone in Coleraine. We still have no proposals for the areas that are most mired in high unemployment (not least Derry).

“Will any prospective city deal include support for further university expansion? Why could there not be a cross-border dimension? We have made a move on corporation tax, but if we are to learn lessons from the South, we must see that it is not just corporation tax that has underpinned its economic performance. It is also key investment in higher education and skills and in infrastructure. Those two things are missing in the North.”

In response to Mark Durkan, NIO Minister Ben Wallace MP replied: “The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) is absolutely right to say it is very important to make sure that our economic development is balanced across a region or a country. We have to make sure that we always rebalance, and that we do so fully conscious that it is not always about one big city. I am delighted about the Republic of Ireland’s commitment on the A5 – after this election, we hope. The Northern Ireland Executive have already said that they are going to move ahead with the A6 and finish off the dualling. If we can get Derry and Londonderry much faster to get to, there is great hope. I hear the hon. Gentleman (Mark Durkan) loud and clear on the city deals and enterprise zones. I have already spoken to (his colleague) the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) about how we can help to lobby and put together a bid. We will happily go with her to see the Chancellor and lobby for that, whether it is for South Down or Londonderry.”

This was almost a year ago. In the intervening eight months after the last Assembly election, no proposals on it were forthcoming. The likelihood of Assembly support for this proposal, which as you can see did not fall on deaf ears at Westminster, seems even more distant now given the latest political stagnation.

Oddly, despite the disintegration of the Assembly and the likely return of direct rule, BREXIT may offer Derry a chance to prosper. Whilst the EAG felt safe in their advice that Northern Ireland should be a single economic unit because specific regions are given classification that attracts investment and it classified here as one unit-this classification would be removed after Britain’s departure from the EU. This classification is called Nomenclature of Units for Territorial Statistics, or NUTS for short (no pun intended).

So, given this, Beyond The Pillars asked the Department of the Economy at Stormont: “If any discussions have been had between the Department of the Economy and the UK Government regarding the attraction of inward investment to sub-regional areas of Northern Ireland particularly in the event of the UK leaving the EU and the NUTS specification of Northern Ireland no longer being in place?”

We also asked: “If any discussions have been had between the Department of the Economy or Invest NI and the UK Government to allocate regions within Northern Ireland such as the North West with its own specific area, with its own inward investment priorities, such as a UK NUTS allocation for different areas within Northern Ireland as opposed to Northern Ireland being considered as a single unit for investment?”

What was the response to those questions?

It was: “No, we have no records that any discussions took place.”

In fact, continuing with their response, the Department said that the ‘UK’s Assisted Areas Map was is approved for the period 2014-2020.’

What is the Assisted Areas Map? Well, in essence,  it is a map containing areas where extra assistance would be available to businesses, which doesn’t even address the point made, but worse, also categorises the North as one whole area.

So, the Executive in the dysfunctional fashion only it can get away with, has completely overlooked any opportunity arising from the catastrophe that is Brexit, to facilitate growth in the North West – and look at the timescales, both the SDLP and SF were in the Executive at this time.

Earlier in this article I spoke about party political claims that next week’s poll is not an election about the constitutional position of Northern Ireland and how it is one that aims to straighten out the terms of governance if, and it is a big ‘if’, if there is a return to Stormont. In fact it is an election that is more than ever about the constitutional position of Northern Ireland, not just within the UK, but within Europe as well, simply because any new Executive must face the issue of Brexit head on.

Given, as shown above they haven’t even discussed these matters with the UK Government, this may be something worth remembering when you mark your ballot paper next Thursday.

DERRYS SPENDING NEGLECT LAID BARE

Tonight, given there’s an election in the making, I wanted to focus on my own patch – Derry.  This piece might be a bit technical in nature, and for that I apologise, but nonetheless the contents of it need to be said, for it is something that needs to be put in front of the noses of those parties who sit, and have sat, at the Executive in Stormont for the last decade.

Stormont gets its funding from three sources – the much-maligned ‘block grant’ of about £10bn per year from Westminster, the Regional Rate, which is part of domestic and non-domestic rates we pay, and the third, little known about, Reinvestment and Reform Initiative, hereafter referred to lovingly as the RRI.

Thew RRI is effectively a loan from the UK Treasury specifically for use in infrastructure projects; roads, hospitals etc.  It was created in 2003-4 to help modernize public services.  The Executive borrow from the Government to build infrastructure, seems fairly transparent.  If only.

The RRI allowed us to borrow £125 million in 2003-04 and, from 2014-15, a longer term borrowing facility initially capped a £200 million per year.  Bear in mind that the DUP, UUP and SF have all held, or hold, infrastructure portfolio or finance portfolio in the Executive in the last ten years.  SDLP held the DSD portfolio a number of times and Alliance held the Justice portfolio.  All sat at the Executive table.

Now that I’ve set the scene, the rest of the piece will be broken down into two sections – the ruin of the RRI, and what was actually spent, where.

Wrecked for political convenience

At this point I should remind you that the RRI is a loan mechanism, we pay it back every year to the UK Government – in 2012-13 we had to pay back about £100m per year, so it is something we all pay for – and it is there for infrastructure.

Here’s what is actually happening.

The Stormont House Agreement and Fresh Start Implementation Plan provided flexibility for the Executive to use £700 million of capital borrowing to fund a public sector voluntary exit scheme over a four year period, with £200 million in 2015-16, £200 million in 2016-17, £200 million in 2016-17 and £100 million in 2018-19.

The ‘Fresh Start’ Agreement also provided an additional £350 million of borrowing for infrastructure projects with a profile over four years with £100 million in 2015-16, £100 million in 2016-17, £100 million in 2017-18 and £50 million in 2018-19.

So, in essence, we have borrowed money earmarked for infrastructure in order to make people redundant – and added to that debt by asking for more loans to build the projects the loans were supposed to be for in the first place.

As part of this, I asked the Department of Finance to outline when, in the last five years, RRI money had been used to fund anything other than what it was intended for.  Here is their response.

“In 2010-11 RRI borrowing of £36.9 million was used to fund the costs of an NICS Equal Pay claim.

The Stormont House Agreement and Fresh Start Implementation Plan provide flexibility for the Executive to use £700 million of capital borrowing to fund a public sector voluntary exit scheme. In 2015-16 additional borrowing of £183.5 million was undertaken to make funding available for the voluntary exit scheme. The figures for 2016-17 will not be finalised until after the end of the financial year.”

So, more borrowing for a redundancy scheme.

Finally, I asked the Department of Finance a bit of an awkward question to allay any doubts, and deny any politicos out there the opportunity to spin the story.  If any reallocations of funds from the RRI have to be signed off by the First and Deputy First Minister.  Their response?

The use of RRI borrowing for non-capital purposes would be a matter for the Executive and may only be done with Treasury approval.

So now, for Derry’s share.  For the avoidance of doubt, I asked for a list of all projects across NI funded by the RRI, and some of them just don’t fit into constituencies, so any projects that have had any benefit to the City I have included, such as the Derry-Dungiven road, and North West Regional College funding although there is no proof that this was spent in Derry, but could have been spent in other campuses.

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5.42% of all infrastructure spending in the North since just 2011-12 has been spent for the direct benefit of the City.

I thought putting this in a small chart might help solidify it in your mind.

untitledThe blue, all of RRI spending in NI, with the red, that money spent in Derry.

Let’s get down to brass tacks.

What did Derry get?

In 2011-12, 16 projects were approved at a cost of £375 million.  Of these, 1 was primarily Derry-based, Gransha Mental Health unit, which received £6.9 million.

In 2012-13, 15 projects were approved at a cost of £151.8 million.  Of these, 3 were identified as being in, or of benefit to Derry – Gransha Mental Health Unit, A5 to Strabane and the Coleraine-Derry rail line, though this is mostly outside of the City.  In total, these three projects attracted £32.6 million.

In 2013-14, 13 projects were approved at a cost of £195.9 million.  Of these, 2 were Derry-based or of benefit to us.  Altnagelvin Redevelopment and the Coleraine-Derry line which both totalled £3.3 million.

In 2014-15, a massive 27 projects were approved at a combined cost of £259 million.  Of these, 2 were Derry based, or of benefit – Altnagelvin Redevelopment and the A5 Western Transport Corridor.  They totalled £11.35 million.

In 2015-16, 21 projects were approved at a total of £295 million.  Of these, only one was Derry based, Altnagelvin Redevelopment costing £4.5 million.

In 2016-17, a whopping 34 projects were approved at a cost of £136.3 million.  Of these, Derry had four projects – Altnagelvin Redevelopment, the A6 Derry-Dungiven, Coleraine-Derry line refurbishments and funding allocated to North West Regional College – although as aforementioned it is possible none of this specific funding was spent in Derry.  All of these cost £18 million.

Out of a possible £1.4 billion pounds of spending, Derry attracted £60.2 million.  

ALL major political parties, who are all running candidates in Foyle, were in the Executive during this time, indeed the Deputy First Minister and Environment Minister were from this City.

When the parties knock your door, perhaps you’ll ask them why 5.24% is good enough for Derry?

 

 

 

REVEALED: COST OF OUTSTANDING WELFARE LOANS

Given the increasing austerity measures in place locally and in Britain, I thought it might be interesting to put a figure to one small aspect of the welfare system to demonstrate the level of hardship being felt by many across our communities.  If you are a regular reader, you’ll know the posts on BtP often deal in tens of thousands up to tens of millions of pounds when we reveal spending here and there in the public service, but the figure I arrived at when finishing this piece shocked even me.

I asked the Social Security Agency, since 2011, to outline the liability to NISSA on currently unpaid crisis loans and other loans made to claimants, and to outline the number of cases currently in arrears by NI Assembly constituency.

Let’s deal with the basics first.  Crisis loans (due to end in a number of weeks) is described by NI Direct as being for when;

  • you don’t have enough money to meet your (or your family’s) immediate short term needs in an emergency or as the result of a disaster
  • think there will be serious damage or risk to your (or your family’s) health or safety without the loan

Budgeting Loans are for ‘if you’re on a low income and need help with certain important costs’.  Funeral Loans are there to help cover the cost of funerals.

As the names suggest, these loans need to be paid back and are taken from a welfare claimants income.

At this point it should be pointed out again that the figures included in this piece are not the total amount of loans made by NISSA to welfare claimants, it is the total cost of loans that have not been repaid (yet).

The second part of the response from SSA sets the context.  In outlining the constituencies with the highest number of cases with loans outstanding, we will see the names of constituencies all too familiar.

North Belfast comes top of the list, with 52,760 outstanding cases.

Next is West Belfast with 51,780 outstanding, followed unsurprisingly by Foyle, with 45,980 outstanding cases.

The South Antrim constituency comes bottom of the table, with 11,650 outstanding cases.

Now, to the figures themselves, which are provided below for each financial year.

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Remember, these are the value of loans outstanding, not issued.

These shocking figures in themselves demonstrate the inability of loan claimants to repay the loans to the Social Security Agency.

However, when we put all of the figures together, there is a truly frightening outcome.

There is a total of £451.8m of Crisis Loans outstanding across the North, £198.5m of Budgeting Loans outstanding and £44.6m of Funeral Loans outstanding in the last five years.

This comes to a staggering total of £694.85m – that is £694,850,000 or almost £1 billion.

 

REVEALED: STORMONTS SECRET CONTROVERSIAL ART CACHE

In September, I asked the Assembly to outline the following to me;

“The total value of stored artefacts, paintings and all other valuables held in storage by the Northern Ireland Assembly, including any past valuations from the past five years. Please include the number of items in total and broken down by item type i.e. painting name, etc.”

The focus of this was to reveal what artwork or artefacts the Assembly held in storage, as apart from those that are on display throughout Parliament Buildings.  As someone who previously worked in the building, this was primarily of interest because of the often one-sided use of publicly owned art in Stormont.

We have likely all seen the hanging portraits of former First and Deputy First Ministers during the news, or the sight of the pristine Senate Chamber, complete with throne.

The contents, however, of the stored artwork and artefacts raises the question of why indeed the Assembly continue to hold some of the items given their somewhat controversial nature, and why they have not been sold for the public benefit.

There are eight items currently in storage, with a valuation undertaken in 2013 placing these at £35,500 in total.

Three artefacts are valued at £24,000, these are;

Carved and painted model of Parliament Buildings centre section: £8,000.00

Table with map of six counties by Sir James Milner Barbour 1935: £10,000.00

A carved and gilded throne chair upholstered in red velvet: £6,000.00

Yes, you read correctly, the Assembly has a £6,000 throne in storage as well as what is no doubt a very expensive table.

The awkward nature of the items does not stop there.  Paintings of an illustrious former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland are amongst the pieces, costing £2,000 as well as a portrait of Lord Craigavon valued at £3,000.

However, the most questionable holding of these pieces, seemingly hidden away from the public though owned by them, is a portrait of Sir Henry Wilson MP, valued at £1,500 and completed by H.W. Gates.

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Sir Henry might be better known to followers of Irish history as a chief protagonist in the Curragh mutiny, where the Army refused to coerce Ulster into Home Rule.  Michael Collins referred to Wilson as “a violent Orange partisan” and he was later made a security advisor to the new Northern Ireland Government – in other words, he was anything but a liberal or supporter of equality in Ireland.

Why then, does the current Assembly and the parties therein permit such a divisive piece of art to be held in trust for the public in storage? Surely in this new era of devolved government following the New Start initiative, this piece of history should be sold by the Assembly and the proceeds used for some public good?

This required further consideration, especially when we take into consideration that all of these pieces are valued at a total of £35,500, but the cost of storing them over the last five years comes to a staggering £45,394.40.

NI BUREAUX – YOUR TAXES WELL SPENT?

The NI Executive operate a number of overseas offices – or bureaux – to represent the interests of NI in Washington, Brussels and since 2014/15, China.

The Bureau in Washington has the following description from the Executive office;
‘The Bureau works to cultivate and strengthen mutually beneficial links among economic, educational, cultural and community development interests in North America and Northern Ireland’.

The Washington office has a complement of 6 staff and has done since opening, whilst the Brussels office has had 5 staff from 2009-12, increasing to 7 staff in 2015/16.
The China office, which opened in 2014 has two staff.

BtP asked the Executive Office to outline how much each office spent on staffing, hospitality and travel each year since opening.

Despite implementing an austerity budget at home, the spending of the three overseas office (the Chinese office less so) could be seen as extravagant.

Since opening in 2007/8, the Washington office has spent over half a million pounds on hospitality – £686,000 to be exact.  This dwarfs the other two offices, with Brussels having spent £178,000 and China £4,000 on hospitality.

On travel, the Washington office far outspent its counterparts again, spending £737,000 since opening, compared to £231,000 for Brussels and £28,000 for the Chinese office.

The staffing for each office, bearing in mind the highest staff complement in any office itself is 7, are phenomenal.

Since opening, Washington has spent almost £3 million on staffing – £2.949m.  Surprisingly, Brussels tops the board with a staffing spend of over £3 million – £3.071m, and China has spent £265,000.

In total, the three NI Bureau offices have cost the taxpayer a whopping £8.149m since opening.

PSNI’S HUGE GUN BILL REVEALED

Police forces around the UK do not have routinely armed officers, except the PSNI, Ministry of Defence Police and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary.  All other forces have armed response units specifically equipped to deal with specific incidents.  Due to this, firearms are not a major spending priority for the ‘bobby on the beat’.

However, The Police Service of Northern Ireland has spent over £2 million on acquiring firearms in the last six years, BtP can reveal.

We asked the PSNI to outline spending on firearms and their spare parts, tasers and irritant sprays such as mace, since 2011.

In total, the police spent £2,671,631.28 on firearms during that period.

£90,355 was spent on tasers and accessories, with £235,223 spent on irritant sprays.
From 2015 until the present day, nothing has been spent on tasers or sprays, but there has been significant spending on firearms each year since 2011/12 as the data below outlines;

2011/12   £1,840,838
2012/13    £27,122
2013/14   £429,348.10
2014/15   £150,982.65
2015/16   £193,737.75
2016/17   £29,602.78

These costs do not include ammunition, but do include ‘associated spare parts’.

According to a statement to the House of Commons by the then Secretary of State in January 2014, the highest year of spending on firearms, 2013/14 saw 30 national security attacks in NI, over half of which, according to her statement, took place between October and December 2013.  Could this massive hike in firearms expenditure be a response to the upsurge in security-related incidents?

As of January 2016, the PSNI has a full time office complement of 6,872.  The total cost of firearms constitutes almost £400 per officer, though it is unlikely each officer is issued with a new firearm each financial year.

SPORTS: WE UNCOVER FUNDING

Sports have long been deemed to be a major factor in bridging divides, keeping people active and generally being at the heart of communities across the region, so we decided to have a look into the funding of sports by SportsNI.

There were some odd outcomes, such as ‘Tug of War’ being allocated more funding than Volleyball for example.

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As you can see, anything from American Football to Rambling to Dodgeball have been granted some funds in the last five years.

‘Multi Sports’ far outstrips any other funded sport at £20,977,586.77.  As part of this wide ranging funding portfolio, £1,429,164.61 has been spent on 3G pitches and MUGA facilities.  Projects such as the refurbishment of the Alpha Hall in Lisburn and projects in Ballynahinch have been subject to major funding.

The most funding for an individual sport goes to Association Football – it has been granted a total of £7,574,729.83 since 2011.  It is followed by Boxing surprisingly, which has received £6,988,550.53.

Gaelic Sports were given £5,245,330.84 in the 2011-16 period, excluding Camogie which was given £273,696.

The top sports that have been granted over £1 million in total since 2011 are as follows:

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VESTING LAND: HOW MUCH DOES IT COST YOU?

Vesting Orders are statutory instruments that are used to buy, not necessarily with the permission of the owner, land which public bodies require – for example to build roads.  Owners are then compensated for the land by the relevant NI Executive Department.

Given large scale infrastructure projects such as the Magherafelt bypass and the Shore Road in Greenisland are ongoing, and the A5 and A6 projects are due to progress in the not to distant future, we undertook to see how much the vesting of the land used for these projects is costing the public purse.

In the last five years, a whopping £14 million pounds have been spent just vesting land for infrastructure projects by the Department of Regional Development – that is before any work takes place to actually construct the projects.

The largest of these projects is the A8 Belfast to Larne Dualling, the vesting of its 394 acres cost taxpayers almost £6.5 million pounds (£6,353,798.05).

The A2 Shore Road project in Greenisland is second, costing £3.24m for just 28.66 acres.

Dunlady Road’s Park and Ride Scheme in Dundonald cost £1.531m for just over 6 acres of land.  It is followed by a much larger scheme – the Magherafelt Bypass where the land of 30 landowners was vested at a cost of £1.22m for 83.25 acres.

A huge variance is cost per acre depending on where the land is vested.

 

INVESTNI: ‘CLAWBACK’ RECORD REVEALED

The scale of the money lost by InvestNI when companies they have aided go to the wall is shocking, but small compared to the amount actually clawed back by the organisation, BtP can reveal today.

Less than 4% of all the money granted to companies who have then gone out of business for one reason or another has been regained by the organisation, which means the public has suffered a catastrophic loss.

Over one and a half million pounds was granted to companies since 2011 that has now closed.  As part of the letters of offer for aid, companies are required to pay back grants.

InvestNI told us:

Clawback is triggered when a company defaults on the conditions in the letter of offer for financial assistance. In a significant number of cases the act of default is company closure. The ability to clawback financial assistance paid to a company is normally limited to the five year period prior to default, and given that in many cases the company has gone into liquidation the ability to recover funds is limited.

Since 2011, 29 companies have been the subject of clawbacks, with aid totalling £1.65m.  The biggest debt owed is from the Limavady Gear Company, which went into administration in October 2010 – it owes almost £330,000.

Also included on the list is Mivan, the construction firm which closed in January 2014 with the loss of almost 300 jobs.  It owes InvestNI – and thus the public, a whopping £222k.  Documents from Companies house dated March 2014 show that at the time it still owed InvestNI over £73k.

Some of these businesses were hailed at the time, and attracted vast sums of public money in aid, such as Mediasmiths International which was offered £75k when it came to Belfast in 2011 and was welcomed by then Enterprise Minister, Arlene Foster. (Source)

Despite the enormous outstanding debts, a meagre 3.7% of the total bill has been settled by the the companies or their administrators.  In fact, just two companies have paid back the aid they were granted, totalling just £55,456.

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We have been told that 8 of the companies debts have been ‘written off’ and 19 are still outstanding.  At present, no court costs have been paid by InvestNI to regain the money granted to these companies.

Here is the full list from InvestNI and how much the respective former businesses owe:

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You will notice we have blanked out a company name in the 2013-14 year, this is due to an ongoing legal case, and we’d rather not get sued.