Northern Ireland

PAC says agriculture research body failed to deliver 'value for money'

Michaela Boyle
Image caption Michaela Boyle said the Pac was "alarmed at the extent of weaknesses and shortcomings" in the institute's financial management

A body doing crucial work for the agri-food industry has failed to deliver good value for money on £253m of spending, a report has found.

The report by the Public Accounts Committee (Pac) at Stormont stated management of the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) had been "unacceptably poor".

The institute was set-up in 2006 and is run by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

It carries out scientific research.

The facility, located in south Belfast, is considered the front-line in the fight against animal and plant disease.

Most of its income is from the public purse - this totalled £253m in its first six years of operations.

But the chair of the Pac, Michaela Boyle, said: "Our findings lead us to believe this significant investment has not provided good value for money."

For example, the institute did not benchmark costs for scientific testing, its most significant area of activity.

Research projects also overran and overspent.

Ms Boyle said the Pac was "alarmed at the extent of weaknesses and shortcomings" in the institute's financial management, although new procedures were introduced recently.

The report said the institute's coffers had been boosted by £20m plus of income from royalties.

This was from patents filed on scientific discoveries from its predecessor organisation, the Science Service.

But the Pac said it was "extremely concerned" to discover that seven current or former employees had received "very significant shares" of the royalties.

"The principal of paid public sector employees receiving further substantial reward simply for discharging their duties does not sit well with the committee," the report stated.

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